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The Mail on Sunday reports that Games-bound athletes were involved in secret trials of the nutritional supplement designed to boost performance, with UK Sport – the nation’s Olympic agency – passing responsibility for potential doping violations onto their athletes.
UK Sport responded to The Mail‘s report later this weekend stating, “it will never seek to win medals at any cost.”
Ketones, a synthetic substance that can be ingested to promote the state of ketosis that is typically invoked by fasting, are not banned by anti-doping authorities, but have raised alarm bells recently due to mixed opinions on possible health risks and ethical implications.
The Mail‘s investigation states that 91 athletes across eight sports, including cycling and swimming, participated in trials through 2011 and 2012, with the intention of using the substances during the Games. The report did not make clear that products were used during Olympic competition. The 2012 Olympics later saw Team GB emerge as the new power in world cycling, scooping up eight gold medals across road and track disciplines.
Athletes involved in the ketones tests were required to sign waivers accepting personal responsibility for anti-doping implications and adhere to non-disclosure agreements to keep the project below the radar, reports The Mail.
The report, published Sunday, quotes extracts from a document provided to athletes involved:
“UK Sport does not guarantee, promise, assure or represent that use of ketone esters is absolutely World Anti-Doping Code compliant and therefore excludes all responsibility for use of the ketone esters.”
“WADA might exercise … their rights to regulate … [and] collect blood samples or retrospectively test old samples. This may occur if there were pressure of the media if the concept was to leak. However … ketosis is a temporary physiological state and would be difficult to prove or test with any post-event samples.”
UK Sport responded to the reports late Sunday night, stating it “resolutely refutes any accusation that Olympians were used as ‘guinea pigs’, and finds this allegation both misleading and offensive,” and that it “does not fund research projects aimed at giving our national teams a performance advantage at the expense of athlete welfare.”
“UK Sport is fully committed to developing a high-performance culture that is truly inspirational and one that will set us apart from our global competitors — but UK Sport will never seek to win medals at any cost,” continued the agency’s statement.
The Mail‘s report, which did not reveal names, outlines that Olympians involved in the trials were given a product called “DeltaG.” At the time, ketones were being tested and developed by Oxford University in collaboration with U.S. Special Forces in projects intended to enable troops to operate for longer on limited rations.
Of those that trialed the drink, it is claimed that 40 percent experienced gastrointestinal side-effects, with 28 participants withdrawing as a result. A further 24 athletes also quit the scheme due to a lack of perceived benefit.
Dutch team Jumbo-Visma confirmed its use of ketones at last year’s Tour de France, with team officials stating the substance was widely used in the peloton. At the time, UCI boss David Lappartient stated that the use of ketones was being monitored.
“At the UCI we look at all elements which may modify performance and which may affect health,” Lappartient said. “We would not hesitate to take the initiative and refer the matter to the World Anti-Doping Agency as we have done in the past with tramadol and corticosteroids.”