Agency: Track athletes test positive for obscure steroid

`Conspiracy' is alleged

other pro sports probed


October 17, 2003|By Alan Abrahamson and Elliott Teaford | Alan Abrahamson and Elliott Teaford,LOS ANGELES TIMES

United States anti-doping authorities said yesterday that they had uncovered widespread use by track and field athletes this summer of a new and previously undetected "designer" steroid.

They link its development and distribution to a San Francisco Bay Area nutritional supplement laboratory already under investigation by a federal grand jury in San Francisco.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees drug testing for all sports federations under the U.S. Olympic umbrella, said Victor Conte and the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) supplied tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) to an undisclosed number of athletes.

The investigation began in June and has been expanded to other professional sports, said Terry Madden, chief executive of USADA.

After developing tests to detect THG, the drug agency authorized retesting of about 450 urine samples, resulting in an unknown number of positive findings. The athletes who tested positive could face suspensions that will keep them from competing in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Madden declined to provide specific numbers but said, "I know of no other drug bust that is larger than this involving the number of athletes involved. What we have uncovered appears to be intentional doping of the worst sort. ...

"This is a conspiracy involving chemists, coaches and certain athletes using what they developed to be `undetectable' designer steroids to defraud their fellow competitors and the American and world public who pay to attend sporting events."

Conte, responding in an e-mail to several Bay Area newspapers, disputed the agency's findings.

"In my opinion, this is about jealous competitive coaches and athletes that all have a history of promoting and using performance-enhancing agents being completely hypocritical in their actions," Conte said in the e-mail. "As many will soon find out, the world of track and field is a very dirty business and this goes far beyond the coaches and athletes."

Conte, founder and executive director of BALCO, is a self-described nutritionist for many top athletes, including baseball star Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants and Olympic sprint champion Marion Jones. Conte said THG is not an anabolic steroid and added that it's not a controlled substance or banned by any sports governing body.

But Madden said THG's chemical structure is similar to banned anabolic steroids gestrinome and trenbolone. THG is not on a list of banned substances in track and field but would be a related substance outlawed under the sport's anti-doping rules.

USADA said it first learned of what it later identified as THG in early June, when someone it referred to only as a "high-profile track and field coach" telephoned the agency to provide the names of U.S. and international athletes using an undetectable new drug.

The coach sent the USADA a used syringe that contained some of the substance. How he came to possess it or from whom he received it were not immediately clear.

Some 350 samples from the U.S. track and field championships in June, and 100 other random, out-of-competition samples, were retested, resulting in an unknown number of positive findings.

Agents from the Internal Revenue Service, the Food and Drug Administration, the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force and Olympic drug testing officials raided the Burlingame, Calif., offices of BALCO on Sept. 3. Two days later, agents searched the home of Greg Anderson, personal trainer for Bonds.

With the announcement that USADA's investigation has been expanded to other professional sports, a high-ranking baseball official referred to articles on BALCO and said:

"We're aware of the situation and are watching it. From what we understand, the focus is on the company and product. If and when it comes to us, we'll decide on how to handle it."

All of baseball's drug rules are established in collective bargaining with its powerful players union. Steroid testing is being conducted for the first time as part of the new labor agreement, which was implemented this season.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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