(Reuters) - Over 14,000 doping tests have been conducted ahead of next month's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in an effort to protect clean athletes and safeguard the Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Thursday.
The Pre-Games Anti-Doping Taskforce along with National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) and International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (IFs) tested over 6,000 athletes from 61 countries.
The IOC said there was a 70 percent increase in the number of tests conducted between April and December 2017 as compared to the same period in 2016.
"Protecting clean athletes by fighting doping is a top priority for the IOC... we are committed to working with our partners to ensure that Pyeongchang 2018 provides a level playing field for all clean athletes," IOC medical and scientific director Richard Budgett said.
The taskforce, which was set up to monitor and optimize the testing, has placed extra scrutiny on Russian athletes.
Twice the number of Russian athletes were tested in November and December, as compared to those from any other country.
The IOC last month banned Russia from the Pyeongchang Games as a result of its "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system, though individual athletes will be able to compete effectively as neutrals if they can prove their anti-doping credentials.
Widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games was exposed by an independent report for the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Apart from increased testing, the IOC is also aiming to improve testing methods by focusing on factors such as high-risk disciplines and nationalities, suspicious changes in performance and adverse testing history.
(Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)