Drug-free Olympics? Dream on
BALCO founder Victor Conte believes some Olympians will use performance-enhancing drugs in Beijing
A drug-free Olympic Games is too much to expect, says Victor Conte, the man who served four months in a California prison for distributing steroids to Olympic and professional athletes.
"No, I think that is an unrealistic goal," he told CBCSports.ca. "I think it can be cleaned up substantially, if those with the money and the capacity to clean it up express a genuine desire to do so. But not 100 per cent."
Conte does not believe all Olympic-calibre athletes use drugs. He says there are some "genetically gifted athletes" who achieve Olympic success without drugs. He does contend, however, that he knows of several world championship and Olympic finals where all the athletes used performance-enhancing drugs.
When asked how he can make such an inflammatory statement, Conte admits he has supplied most of the female athletes in one world championship sprint final himself. As for the others, he claims he has it on good authority that they were being supplied with performance-enhancing drugs by associates.
The BALCO scandal
Conte was the man at the centre of the infamous BALCO scandal. He has written a book on the matter titled BALCO, which is to be released in September by Skyhorse Publishing.
A U.S. federal inquiry determined that Conte provided performance-enhancing substances, particularly an undetectable anabolic steroid called Tetrahydrogestrinone (popularly known as "The Clear") to athletes such as baseball star Barry Bonds and sprinters Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery.
Conte says there are others ("less than 10") who used "The Clear" whose names have never been revealed and some are world champions. Unless they tell lies about him he says he will not reveal their names. He says he has never supplied performance-enhancing drugs to Canadians.
Admitting to her use of "The Clear" prior to the Sydney Olympics cost Marion Jones three Olympic gold medals. She has since returned the medals she won in Sydney to the International Olympic Committee and is serving a six-month jail term for having lied to federal agents about her drug use.
Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced it will implement 4,500 in and out of competition doping tests at the Beijing Olympics, an increase of 25 per cent over the 2004 Athens Games.
IOC President Jacques Rogge also has announced that suspensions will be implemented after a positive A-sample. In the past they have waited until the B-sample has been analyzed before confirming a positive test. That is another twist in the battle to catch cheats under the World Anti Doping Code.
"Increasing the number of tests is a step in the right direction of making sure no one escapes," says David Howman, Director-General of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) that oversees doping tests. "What is the best program? I think they are trying to find whether they have the best program. If we have a clean Games is that the best program? If we find 24 athletes who cheated does that mean we have the best program? I think it depends on which angle you come from."
Howman refuses to say what additional technology or analytical methods will be used in Beijing to bolster the IOC arsenal for fear of tipping off the cheats. He promises that the laboratory will be well equipped with the latest machinery, including carbon isotope testing, which can detect the use of testosterone much faster.
Late last year, former WADA President Dick Pound met with Conte in New York to share knowledge. Conte says he told Pound that they should be concentrating their testing program during the athletes' off season, a time when he says they are using steroids in conjunction with a weight training program.
Know where fish are biting
"Eighty per cent of the testing should be out of competition and not at meets," Conte says, "Number two, focus on the top-20 athletes. Instead of testing the top-50 twice, test the top-20 five times.
"They are the only athletes who get the lanes, win the medals and make the money. Throw your hook into the pond where you know the fish are biting. At competitions that's more IQ testing than drug testing because you have got to be pretty dumb to test positive at a competition."
Conte explained to CBCSports.ca how some elite athletes evade out of competition testing.
Athletes are required to provide their national anti-doping federations with their locations on a quarterly basis and update this information regularly. They are to be available for out of competition testing on short notice. But Conte says the athletes know they can miss two tests without penalty. Three missed tests is treated the same as a positive test and the athlete is suspended.
British 400-metre runner Christine Ohuruogu served a one-year suspension for missing three tests and went on to win the 2007 IAAF world championships in Osaka. In 2006, more than 70 British track and field athletes missed at least one out of competition test.
"They fill out a whereabouts form and say they are going to place X and they go to place Y. Then if the tester shows up the worst consequence is they get a missed test," says Conte. "But they have also got a short cycle of steroids under them. It's like strike one in baseball, you are still up to bat. Then you change and instead of Y you go to X next time. I have calculated the odds of them coming to test you when you give misinformation on your form. It's about 25 to 1. Those are pretty good odds.
'Sorry, mailbox is full'
"They fill up their own cell phones so that when the testers call it says. 'Sorry, the mailbox is full, you can't leave a message.' Then the testers call other numbers. By the time they show up the athletes are clear, and they test negative. What's the worst consequence? It's a missed test."
The WADA code has been revised so that beginning in January 2009 athletes will be required to provide their whereabouts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition they must designate one hour each day when they will be available for testing. Since the early 1990s the use of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) has been widespread, according to anecdotal information. Many believe that the current test in use is ineffective. Not so, says David Howman.
"HGH has been used with impunity by many athletes for many years either on its own or in combination with other drugs," he says. "We have the analytical ability to detect it. That test is available through the collection of blood and will be available in Beijing." The lines in the sand have been drawn. Let the Games begin.