Academics behind a controversial study of the performance-enhancing drug nandralone have defended their work in the face of a scathing attack by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which last week dismissed their evidence as "irrelevant".
Preliminary findings by Ron Maughan, professor of human physiology at Aberdeen University, indicate that athletes who combine some dietary supplements with intense exercise raise their chances of testing positive for anabolic steroids. "We did not present it as a complete scientific study," Professor Maughan said. "What we have done is limited but valid, and we believe that there is something interesting to be explored here."
However, Arne Ljungqvist, the IAAF's vice-president, believes that athletes should be held responsible for anything found in their bodies. Speaking just after UK Sport announced that it had lifted the suspension of Mark Richardson, a British 400m runner, based on the research, he said: "It is not a valid study. It is a minor report on a handful of individuals." He added that the research would "never qualify for publication in the scientific world".
But Professor Maughan stressed the difficulties associated with research in this field. "Testing for drugs sounds like it should be simple, but some athletes believe they have been unfairly suspended. What is on the label is not always what is in the packet."