Only on AP: A Soviet sprinter who said no to steroids

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) The story of my close call with doping in the Soviet Union began in 1967, when I was 17 and had just returned home from training camp, deeply disappointed not to have made the national youth track team.

I was the 100-meter and 400-meter champion for runners 17 or younger in Georgia, which at the time was one of the 15 republics that made up the Soviet Union.

Determined to make the national team, consisting of four runners at each distance, I switched to a new trainer who had recently come to Georgia from Russia.

My new trainer was focused on my setting new Georgian records in the 100 and 200 meters before I turned 18. I had slacked off in the 200 in the Georgian championships, finishing second, but the shorter sprints were still my strength.

Also in 1967, I was part of the Georgian team that took bronze in the 4x100 relay in the first national youth games, held in Kiev.

To set the Georgian record in the 100, I only needed to cut my time by one tenth of a second. But no matter what I did, nothing worked. The problem was that my start was too slow.

My new trainer suggested I start taking anabolic steroids to put on the muscle mass I needed to get up to speed more quickly. I had all but agreed, especially after he assured me that all famous athletes, particularly in track, took steroids. He told me I would be sure to make the national team, and promised to provide imported drugs, which were of a better quality than those produced in the Soviet Union.

Even though I was persuaded, I decided to ask my mother, who was a well-known doctor. She was horrified! She categorically forbade me to take steroids. At first she spoke to me in a harsh tone, but perhaps seeing the stubbornness in my eyes, she switched tactics and told me that taking anabolic steroids could cause impotence. That did it for me. I refused to take the steroids and began to train even harder.

However, I soon began to notice that many of my competitors around the Soviet Union were seeing sharp improvements in their times. My trainer attributed this to doping. But my mother's authority was higher.

I continued to run on the Georgian team, transitioning to the junior competitions for athletes 19 or younger, and I ran for a while even after entering Georgia State University in Tbilisi. I quit only when I had to stop lifting weights because it was causing my eyesight to deteriorate.

After graduating with a degree in journalism it was time to start a new career, and have children of my own.

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Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili has been the Georgia correspondent for The Associated Press since 1992.

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