Anti-doping boss: U.S. team will be clean

Athens-bound athletes' cases will be resolved, Senate committee is told

July 14, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency assured senators yesterday that accusations of steroid use by Olympic hopefuls will be resolved - one way or another - before America sends its team to the Games next month.

"Any athlete who makes the team going to Athens, their case will be decided before Athens," Terry Madden, chief executive officer of the drug watchdog group, told a Senate committee. "We're going after them. We're going after the drug cheats, and that's what they are."

A swift resolution of athletes' circumstances would spare the U.S. Olympic Committee from deciding whether to include any athletes - such as sprint champion Marion Jones - on the roster before their steroid investigations are complete.

Jones has not been formally charged and has denied wrongdoing. The United States is supposed to submit its Athens roster by next Wednesday.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the U.S. swimming trials conclude tonight and the track trials conclude Sunday.

Madden's testimony came during a three-hour hearing in which witnesses - including academicians, scientists and a former Division I football player who testified with his identity concealed - warned lawmakers that steroid abuse has become increasingly widespread.

At stake, several witnesses said, is America's international reputation and the health of an untold number of adolescents who use anabolic steroids to keep up with their peers or emulate professional athletes they believe are using the drugs.

"Knowingly or unknowingly, our kids continue to be pressured into using steroids," testified Don Hooten, a Texas man whose 17-year-old son committed suicide last July after using anabolic steroids to bulk up. Taylor Hooten was a 6-foot-3, 175-pound baseball pitcher whose junior varsity coach urged him to "get bigger," the father testified.

Steroid use has been linked to mood swings and depression, as well as damage to the liver, kidney, heart and sexual organs.

A 2003 University of Michigan study reported that 3 to 4 percent of high school senior boys said they had used anabolic steroids at least once.

At the college level, "the temptation to use steroids is great because of the surrounding players who quite obviously have used drugs to gain physical strength," said the football player. He testified from behind a frosted glass partition and his voice was electronically distorted to protect his identity.

He said he was a walk-on at a Division I college that he declined to name but described as having two or three games broadcast on national television each fall.

He said a friend "lived with a player that supplied seven or eight other players on the team with these steroids. Many ... played significant time in games and most were starters on either offense or defense."

The player said he resisted using steroids himself because he was well aware of the risks. In response to a question, he said that during high school he used androstenedione - a legal supplement that acts like a steroid when metabolized.

Andro, as it is called, was made popular by former baseball slugger Mark McGwire. In March, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson warned 23 companies to stop its sale and marketing.

But andro is not on the list of federal controlled substances. Neither is the designer steroid THG, whose usage by track and field athletes was a catalyst in an ongoing federal investigation of BALCO, a Northern California laboratory.

Sen. Joseph Biden Jr., a Democrat from Delaware and co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on Narcotics Control, called abuse of performance-enhancing drugs "not only a health issue but also a values issue" for the nation's youth.

Biden, along with caucus co-chair Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, is sponsoring legislation to criminalize andro and THG and their chemical cousins and to begin a process that would likely stiffen sentences of violators.

The House-passed bill has been delayed in the Senate because some senators want to include provisions that Biden and others consider extraneous.

Among those pushing for passage is Madden, who said the nation needs to improve the image of its athletics: "Right now, the perception out there is America is not a clean country."

Madden's agency has told four athletes - 100-meter world-record holder Tim Montgomery and fellow sprinters Chryste Gaines, Michelle Collins and Alvin Harrison - that they could face lifetime bans if it is determined they used illegal drugs.

All have been eliminated from the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Sacramento, Calif. But Jones is still alive in the long jump and will attempt to qualify in the 200 meters.

Harrison's twin brother, Calvin, who is facing a possible drug stimulant-related suspension, remains in contention in the 400 meters.

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