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gold medal A New Banned Substance Makes its Olympic Debut

Bromantan, the drug that four athletes have tested positive for at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, is so new that many experts on banned substances have never heard of it. "I've had our librarians working on it," says Gregory A. Landry, MD, professor at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison. "My first Medline search only located one rat study that just looked at the chemistry of the drugs effects—nothing related to performance," says Landry, president-elect of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. He is an Olympic consultant and editorial board member of The Physician and Sportsmedicine. He was a team physician for the United States Olympic Team at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games. "But this certainly appears to be an attempt to enhance performance without detection," he says.

Michele Verdier, spokesperson for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), says this is the first time bromantan—a stimulant and a masking agent—has been detected at the Olympic Games, She says bromantan is similar to mesocarb, a stimulant classified as a class A banned substance by the IOC. Only one athlete has ever tested positive for mesocarb before, and that was at the 1992 Barcelona games.

John Lehtinen, MD, head physician for the United States Olympic team had also never heard of bromantan, according to a report by the Associated Press. He says that according to a reference book on sports-related drugs, mesocarb is the generic form of a motor stimulant called Syndocarb, which was made in the Soviet Union. He says the book describes Syndocarb as similar in structure and pharmacological properties to amphetamines, with the potential to increase mental or physical performance. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, mesocarb is not controlled domestically or internationally, or approved for use in the United States.

On Sunday (July 28) Russian swimmer Andrei Korneyev was stripped of a bronze medal he won in the 200-m breaststroke, and Russian Greco-Roman wrestler Zafar Gouliev was stripped of a bronze medal he won in the 48-kg weight class. The 13th place finish of Lithuanian sprint cycler Rita Razmaite was canceled. On Tuesday (July 30) her team physician and coach were ejected from the Olympics by the IOC for drug-related offenses, and another Russian swimmer, Nina Zhivanevskaya, tested positive for the same drug.

The Russian National Olympic Committee has appealed the disqualification of its medalists on the grounds that the substance is not found on the IOC's list of prohibited substances. The IOC's medical code, however, includes the terminology "related substances" to cover drugs not listed by name. So far the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee has not filed an appeal.