Looking Out for No. 1 Those frontline soldiers in the war on steriod abuse--the pee collectors--are finally making a splash

Dec. 22, 2003
Dec. 22, 2003

Table of Contents
Dec. 22, 2003


Looking Out for No. 1 Those frontline soldiers in the war on steriod abuse--the pee collectors--are finally making a splash

To pee or not to pee?

This is an article from the Dec. 22, 2003 issue Original Layout

That is the question hundreds of drug cheats have faced when
confronted by John Johnston and his plastic beakers. The
68-year-old New Jersey pensioner is a drug-testing crew chief,
which is a euphemism for doping control officer, which itself is
a euphemism for....

"Pee collector," he says helpfully. "Really, all I do is collect
athletes' pee."

A champion collegiate wrestler who coached at Princeton from 1964
to '93, Johnston is part of a nationwide Stream Team that
volunteers for the National Center for Drug Free Sport, the
NCAA's collection agency. As much as he sloughs off his
importance, Johnston, and the hundreds of pee collectors working
for the IOC, NBA, NFL and other governing bodies, might have the
most powerful job in sports. When a PC says whiz, you whiz or (in
most cases) face suspension.

These men and women are at the front lines of the fight against
the steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG)--PCs got the goods on the
four Raiders who last month tested positive for the drug.
Likewise, PCs bagged the 5% to 7% of major league ballplayers who
flunked tests for steroids. When sprinter Kelli White got
stripped of the gold medal she won at this year's World Track and
Field Championships (she tested positive for the stimulant
modanifil), a PC was responsible. The trusty pee collector, it
seems, is single-handedly keeping sports from going down the

"Athletes are afraid to look at me," says physician Bob Goldman,
an International Federation of BodyBuilders official who collects
samples at competitions. "It's like I'm Darth Vader."

Once a PC shows an athlete his I.D. badge, the athlete must strip
from his nips to his knees. Then Johnston has the jock fill a
beaker and transfer the contents into two bottles with
tamper-proof caps--samples A and B. After attaching a bar-coded
label, the bottles are placed in a plastic bag, which is placed
in a box, which is placed in another box, which is sealed and
taken to a lab for analysis.

The NCAA, which visits each Division I school at least once a
year, tests for steroids, masking agents and the stimulant
ephedrine and for even more banned substances at championships.
Among college athletes the failure rate is slightly less than 2%
of about 10,500 tests each year. "It's a pain," says University
of Miami forward Darius Rice. "They call you late at night, and
you have to get up at six o'clock and do it. The little guy sits
there watching you butt naked."

Some athletes can't answer the bell. "A shy bladder" is PC-speak
for performance anxiety. Johnston has waited up to 10 hours for a
satisfactory sample. Happily, he's a man of infinite patience.
"Everybody's gotta go sometime," he says.

When the athlete finally relieves himself, Johnston watches for
peculiar behavior. Evasive actions include relying on catheters
and hidden bags of "clean" urine.

Goldman remembers a bodybuilder's sample in which drops of oil
were suspended. "I thought, This guy's either cheating or dying,"
he says. Cheating, it turned out. The bodybuilder had dumped out
a bottle of suntan lotion, filled it with water and taped it
between his legs. "When I found the hidden bottle," Goldman
reports, "he said, straight-faced, 'Oh, gee. How'd that get

This is one job with more spills than thrills. "I've had three
athletes knock over their specimens," Johnston says. "All
football players." The first let his beaker slip through his
hands as he snapped on the lid. "A wide receiver," says Johnston.
The second burst out of a bathroom holding his beaker aloft and
promptly fumbled it. "A quarterback," says Johnston. As the third
athlete struggled to meet the 80-milliliter minimum, he placed
the beaker between his feet and idly kicked it over. "His
position?" says Johnston. "Punter."

All things considered, the job is not without rewards. "You get
to go to a lot of games," Johnston says, "and see a lot of the
country." In the parlance of pee collecting, his cup runneth

--Franz Lidz

"In the tradition of Leon and Michael, Cory Spinks pulled an
upset." --FOR THE RECORD, PAGE 18