United States Anti-Doping Agency CEO Terry Madden announced last
week that his group had identified a previously undetectable
designer (chemically engineered) steroid and that testing showed
that "several" U.S. track and field athletes have used the
substance. He also promised that an ongoing investigation will
lead to "one of the largest drug busts in the history of sport."
The investigation could deal a crushing blow to an already
reeling sport. "This has the potential to eclipse the Ben Johnson
scandal," says Charles Yesalis, a Penn State professor and expert
on performance-enhancing drugs. Yesalis believes the trail could
also lead investigators into baseball, football and other sports
In June, USADA was contacted by a man who described himself as a
"high-profile" track and field coach; the anonymous caller said
he had information about performance-enhancing drugs and
overnighted to USADA a used syringe containing
tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), a steroid that had been unknown to
the agency. After studying the substance USADA could test for its
presence. Several track athletes' urine samples turned up
positive and will undergo confirmation testing, a process Madden
expects to be completed by December.
USADA last week said the whistle-blowing coach identified
nutritionist Victor Conte, founder of BALCO Laboratories in
Burlingame, Calif., as the source of the THG. Conte's long list
of clients includes Giants' outfielder Barry Bonds, Raiders'
linebacker Bill Romanowski and Kelli White, winner of the 100 and
200 meters at last summer's world track championships. (Conte
also worked with U.S. shot-putter C.J. Hunter, who tested
positive for steroids in 2000.) Last month Conte's lab was raided
by agents for the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation
unit and a narcotics task force. (As many as 40 athletes,
including Bonds and the Yankees' Jason Giambi, have reportedly
been called before a grand jury in the case. The office of
Bonds's trainer, Greg Anderson, was also raided.) Conte didn't
respond to SI's interview requests but sent an e-mail to the San
Francisco Chronicle saying he wasn't the source of USADA's THG.
As far-reaching as the scandal may get, it's worth noting that
the THG discovery did not come from systematic drug testing.
"This was essentially solved by luck," says John Hoberman, a
Texas professor and an authority on sports and doping. "It's
encouraging that USADA has taken an aggressive stance. But there
is much evidence that the cops and robbers approach doesn't work.
The robbers are always ahead. It's reasonable to assume they've
moved on to the next designer steroid." --Tim Layden