He has beenlabeled the evil chemist behind sports' steroid era. Federal investigators callhim one of the "[drug] profiteers who endanger our citizens." A U.S.Anti-Doping Agency official hailed his guilty plea on distribution charges inApril as a step toward "breaking the hold that steroids have on sport."Since he was outed as the creator of THG, the designer steroid reportedly usedby Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and other stars, 40-year-old Patrick Arnold hasbeen portrayed as the linchpin in the BALCO scandal, his Champaign, Ill., lab amodern Frankenstein's castle.
But sitting withArnold in a restaurant on the ground floor of the brick apartment building inChampaign where he lives, it is hard to believe the man sipping Chardonnay withhis ahi tuna is Dr. Evil. He is wearing a dark button-up shirt with his drugcompany's logo on the pocket, and it drapes untucked over the kind ofintentionally weathered cargo pants one finds at Old Navy. His chest, shouldersand arms are massive, evidence of years of using the products--includingsteroids--that he developed.
As he starts totell the story of his life, his career and--for the first time publicly--hisinvolvement with BALCO, something else becomes apparent: Patrick Arnold is,first and foremost, a big nerd.
Ask him about aparticular performance enhancer, and his eyes light up as he launches intogeek-speak that could run through dessert. "Whereas androstenedionerequires reduction to the 17 beta alcohol, this product requires reduction tomixed isometric alcohols at three--I'm sorry," he says, interrupting hisdiscourse. "All of that probably doesn't mean anything to you."
October 8, 2006
But it does to the$13 billion supplement industry, in which Arnold remains an influential playereven though he is scheduled to enter federal prison in Morgantown, W.Va., onNov. 1 to begin a three-month sentence for his role in the BALCO case. BALCOfounder and president Victor Conte, who supplied Arnold's drugs to athletes,has served his four-month jail term and faded from the limelight, but Arnold isalready looking forward to a flourishing career after prison. Sales of hislatest supplement, 6-OXO, which is legal and enhances natural testosteroneproduction, are increasing. Muscular young men still walk into the health foodstore in Champaign and ask for "anything by Patrick Arnold." And on thesame Internet message boards on which he met Conte and they debated supplementsand developed a scientific comradeship, Arnold's posts are still treated asword from on high.
At one time Arnoldloved to talk publicly about the science of performance enhancers. But sincethe BALCO scandal broke in 2003 and he was revealed as the inventor of THG, hehas been silent. It took six months of negotiating through an intermediarybefore he agreed to be interviewed by SI. To be sure, Arnold is wary. He knowshow he has been portrayed in the stories written about him without hiscooperation. "I walked out of a restaurant recently, and a waitress said tomy friend, 'You know, that guy, he's a coke dealer,'" Arnold says."People think the worst of me without really knowing what I'vedone."
What Arnold hasdone is bring the sports world two of its most famous performance enhancers:THG and androstenedione. He didn't invent andro; East Germans were giving it totheir athletes more than two decades before Mark McGwire made it famous when abottle of it was spotted in his locker in the middle of a 70-home-run season.But Arnold rediscovered andro and brought it to the marketplace as aningredient in supplements. He created THG (tetrahydragestrinone), a.k.a theClear, an undetectable derivative of the banned steroid gestrinone, by alteringthe latter's molecular structure. He also synthesized--and tried to determinesafe ways to use--norbolethone, an existing steroid that had never beenmarketed, and desoxymethyltestosterone (DMT), a steroid derived fromdehydroepiandrosterone, one of the body's natural hormones. Arnold suppliednorbolethone and DMT to Conte along with THG, knowing that Conte would passthem on to elite athletes. He also sold norbolethone and THG directly to trackand field coaches and to other athletes.
His creations havelanded him in prison but have also made him a legend in the realm wheresteroids and sports intersect--where the term drug cheat is not pejorative."There are people out there wondering what I will come up with next,"Arnold says. "And I have some ideas. I don't want BALCO to be mylegacy."
Arnold's journeyinto the world of performance enhancers started at age 11, when his grandfathergave him a set of weights. Patrick, a skinny kid growing up in Guilford, Conn.,would spend hours each week lifting in his garage and later in gyms. "Iloved it when kids would pick a fight with me and not know how strong Iwas," he says.
He becamefascinated with vitamins and consumed by what he put into his body. During thelate 1970s an obsession over his protein intake led him to mix milk and eggprotein powder with honey and peanut butter. He kneaded the mess together andshaped it into long, narrow "peanut rolls" that he would freeze.Whenever he wanted instant protein, he'd cut off a slice. Arnold ate and liftedlike a bodybuilder but grew frustrated with his inability to put on much musclemass. He wanted people to see how strong he was. In that way he was very muchlike the people who would one day buy his products.
Having dropped outof the University of New Haven after his freshman year, Arnold was working inconstruction when he tried steroids for the first time. A guy in a gym got hima cheap counterfeit steroid that contained just enough methyltestosterone that"it added 10 pounds of muscle in all the right places," Arnold says.The side effects were minimal, and Arnold became convinced (as he still is)that steroids had been given a bad rap.
His interestpiqued, he returned to New Haven and got his bachelor's degree in chemistry in1990, then took a lab job in New Jersey that allowed him enough free time toresearch performance enhancers. He took classes on organic synthesis at theUniversity of Connecticut and Montclair State. He also devoured books onsupplements and steroids, studying both approved and unapproved Western drugsand those used by the East Germans in their doping heyday.
Throughmessage-board exchanges starting in 1996, Arnold befriended Dan Duchaine,author of Underground Steroid Handbook, a legendary instructional pamphlet thencirculated in West Coast gyms. Duchaine had served time for dealing steroidsand the so-called date-rape drug GHB, but like Arnold today he was veneratedrather than scorned by the bodybuilding set. Duchaine (who had a lifelongkidney disease and died in 2000 at age 47) introduced Arnold to Stan Antosh,the owner of Osmo Therapy, a supplement company then based in San Francisco.Antosh persuaded Arnold to move his research to a small company in Seymour,Ill., called Bar North America.
"I showed up[in 1996], and there was no real lab. It was an old schoolhouse," Arnoldsays. "There was barely any equipment."
BNA's business wasto develop and manufacture machines that process soybeans, which it then soldto Third World countries. But saving the world rarely pays the bills, so"we had to do other things to make money," says owner RamlakhanBoodram, 51, who is originally from Trinidad. "Stan had ideas forsupplements, and he told me he was sending me a brilliant young chemist eagerto get into the industry." The three had an understanding that if Arnolddeveloped any supplements with money-making potential, they would form apartnership to market and sell the products.
Arnold lived in anearby hotel for six months and then in a dilapidated farmhouse for a year. Hedid nothing but study and develop potential supplements, and it would prove tobe one of the most productive stretches of his career. He loved reviewing oldpatents, looking for drugs that had never made it to market or were used onlybriefly. "I relied on research other people had done and took it a stepfurther," Arnold says.
In late 1996Arnold introduced andro in the U.S. When McGwire's use of it became public twoyears later and products containing andro flooded the market, Arnold'sreputation within the industry began to grow. But because their company, LPJResearch, didn't sell andro directly to consumers--only as an ingredient toother supplement makers--Arnold missed out on a financial windfall. That wouldsoon change. In 2001 the company introduced 1-AD. Like andro, 1-AD is aprohormone that is easily converted by the body into testosterone, and it soldso well that the company, now called Proviant Technologies, was able to moveinto a new facility in Champaign, eight miles away, in 2003. But the boom wasshort-lived. In January '05 an amendment to the federal Controlled SubstanceAct banned prohormones.
"We lost 60percent of our product sales when the ban went in place, and we have not beenprofitable since," Boodram says. "Last year we lost almost $2million."
But Arnold'slegend was secure long before the ban. Through his message-board postings andinterviews for bodybuilding websites and magazines, he became known as theexpert on performance enhancers. So when Conte called Arnold in 2000 seekingundetectable drugs, he was simply contacting the most acclaimed scientist inthe field.
It is late, andArnold is sitting at a bar across the street from his apartment, smoking aParliament Light. All night he has avoided talking about Conte, but after thewine at dinner and a beer at the bar, he takes a puff of his cigarette anddives in. "It all started because Victor called me up and asked me if anyof the prohormones I made could be used by athletes and not be detected. I toldhim, 'You shouldn't use them because I can't guarantee [that they won't bedetected].' But this was a friend, a guy whose knowledge I respected, and so Ialso told him, 'A better way would be to try [norbolethone, which Arnold hadsynthesized in 1998], because I don't think it will show up on any drug test.'And that sort of opened up Pandora's box."
Arnold finisheshis cigarette and lights another.
"I knew allabout sports doping. I knew a lot of the behind-the-scenes details about howpeople use. I knew it was a game of cat and mouse. But I didn't feel I wasjumping into anything more than [a potential problem] with a sports governingbody. I wanted to see how effective [norbolethone] would be in well-trainedpeople who were ultraresponsive to changes in their diet or drug regimen. Theresults came back very positive. I took a little pride in that fact."
In 2001 Arnoldswitched Conte from norbolethone to THG, which he'd just developed, because theformer had begun to draw scrutiny from drug testers. Conte continued to passArnold's products on to prominent athletes, dropping the names of sprinterMarion Jones and others when he updated Arnold on their successes. (Jonesdenies ever using performance-enhancing drugs.) But Arnold rarely watchessports. His primary interest is in physical improvement. Once it became obviousthat THG was as effective as he'd hypothesized, he didn't care aboutworld-record times or home run totals. "I'm sitting there at home alone,and this guy catches a touchdown [pass], and no one cheers for me," hesays. "So I was like, 'Who f------ cares?' But I also knew that if they gotcaught, I was going to get busted."
Arnold says headvised Conte on whether a testosterone cream could be used to up thetestosterone levels of athletes, but he didn't supply any to him. And he didn'tsend Conte regular shipments of THG; it was taken in such small doses (just acouple of drops under the tongue) that a few shipments proved to be almost allConte needed. "A couple of times he said to me, 'Patrick, you need toinvent something else,' but I had reached a point where I couldn't do itanymore," Arnold says. "So I washed my hands of it. Too many [athletes]were getting too much better than the rest. Even before the government gotinvolved, I felt Victor was making a mess of sports."
Arnold won'tdivulge what he was paid for supplying THG to BALCO but says it wasn't enoughto cover his legal fees. Despite his trouble with the law, he doesn'tsecond-guess his decision to develop THG; he believes that all adults shouldhave the right to use steroids and that doctors should prescribe them forcosmetic (muscle-building) or antiaging purposes.
"I know therewere athletes who didn't have access to [THG], and I regret that [the playingfield was not level]," Arnold says. "Another regret is that this hasfurthered the stigma of steroids. People have used it as an opportunity todemonize steroids even more and increase the penalties for possession andsales. Testing organizations have used it to demand more funding. All we hearis that [steroids] make athletes big and strong and then they die five yearslater. But what if they can really help someone?"
After BALCO wasraided in September 2003, Arnold knew it was only a matter of time beforeauthorities came after him. The feds finally arrived at his door in September2005. "There were agents asking, 'Where is the THG?'" he says. "Iwas like, 'Why on earth would I have it two years later?' They expected to findthis massive steroid operation, and instead they spent 13 hours going througheverything and found out it was a legitimate company. That is why I wasindicted and not my business."
As part of hisplea agreement, Arnold didn't have to name athletes and coaches to whom he gavedrugs. He allows that none were big names or professionals from the four majorsports leagues. "Track and field, especially the sprinters, they were moresophisticated in whom to seek out," he offers as a hint. Arnold says he wasnot questioned about Bonds or the other BALCO athletes during the investigationbecause, he says, he never had direct contact with them. (Nonetheless, he wasrecently subpoenaed by the U.S. attorney's office as it tries to determinewhether to indict Bonds on perjury charges.)
"I don't knowanything about Barry, but I know this whole thing would have died had heretired last year," Arnold says. "I don't know why the government keepsthrowing money at this. What more do they have to prove?"
Outside the barArnold pauses before crossing the street and heading home. "They aresuperstars making millions, and I'm getting a pittance," he says of theathletes who used his drugs. "I'm the one getting maligned in the press andgoing to prison, and they are still playing. I got the raw end of thedeal."
ProviantTechnologies' lab sits just off Interstate 57, surround by cornfields. The38,000-square-foot building is divided into several areas, each as large as ahigh school gym. Arnold and Boodram lead a tour of the facility while wearingwhite lab coats and hair nets. The first stop is the chemistry lab area, whereArnold develops new products. The room includes three long stations, eachcounter covered with elaborate equipment to separate, analyze and purifycompounds. Next is chemical manufacturing, where ingredients pour from variouspipes into eight huge tanks. The machines are mixing 6-OXO today, Arnold says,before exiting to the bottling area, where three employees (the company hasabout 30) fill and label bottles of a supplement that is part of SylvesterStallone's new line of sports supplements. To increase its business, Proviant(which also manufactures soy products, including yogurt) is doing more contractwork for companies like Stallone's.
In Arnold'soffice, bottles of supplements sit on every shelf. Books and research papersare strewn everywhere. It's a sign that Arnold is hard at work on his nextcreation. A hint of what that might be can be found in one of his company'slatest products: Ergolean AMP. Last spring UCLA's Olympic lab tested thatsupplement at the request of The Washington Post. Dr. Donald Catlin determinedthat it contained methylehexaneamine, an amphetaminelike compound patented in1944 for use as a nasal decongestant. Catlin considers it an illegalperformance enhancer like amphetamines and will push for it to be added to theWorld Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances. Arnold, as always,defends the science of his product. Methylehexaneamine, he argues, is acomponent of geranium oil, which is a substance found in nature and is "noteven closely related to amphetamines."
Clearly, Arnoldwill continue to push supplements to the edge of what Catlin and othersconsider safe, yet he's not targeting just bodybuilders anymore. "The wholeantiaging industry interests me," he says. "There are so many avenues Ihaven't explored in that. The bodybuilding side is so saturated and has thisstigma, and I'm almost afraid to come out with something that works becausesomeone [in law enforcement] will come after you. But a lot of the stuff thatincreases muscle and helps lose fat also helps the quality of life for olderpeople. And athletes will turn to the antiaging world because it will be easierto get the drugs they want there than from the bodybuilding world."
It is alreadyhappening, Arnold says, and he points to last year's drug case involving fiveCarolina Panthers and a South Carolina doctor specializing in antiagingtherapies who provided them with human growth hormone and steroids. "Fromwhat I know about the NFL, players do a cycle of steroids in the off-season,when the testing is lax, and then they use HGH during the season to help retainwhat they gained," Arnold says.
This doesn'tbother him. If the NFL is full of cheaters, well, the players have made theirchoice. What does concern him is the ignorance surrounding the science ofsteroids. For example, he says, take the belief that steroids won't help abaseball player increase his average: "A person taking testosterone isgoing to be focused and able to tune everything out," he says. "That'san aspect of steroids and how they affect hitting that people overlook:enhanced CSN [central nervous system] activation. It's reaction time."
He finishes thatstatement in a huff, irritated at having to refute yet another drugmisconception. The sports world is full of them, he says. That and all thenegative attention he's gotten from the BALCO scandal is why he says he's donewith athletes and coaches. He warns, however, that there are chemists--orwould-be chemists--willing to take his place. They call or e-mail from time totime to ask his opinion about compounds they are working on. "People's eyesare open now," he says. "They saw what I was doing, manipulatingsteroid molecules. There are books that list hundreds of analogs oftestosterone and their [effects], and I wouldn't be surprised if someone whohad only a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry was doing it right now."
It's a scarythought, that there is a legion of wannabe Patrick Arnolds out there, kids withgreat minds chasing a legacy they may one day regret. Arnold, however, will notwarn them off that course. He hopes not to be remembered as the evil BALCOchemist, yet he knows that infamy has its perks.
"A positivefrom all of this," he says, "is that it showed I have the knowledge andexpertise to come up with products that work." As he speaks, his hulkingright biceps twitches under his shirt, and it is impossible not to see that theonce-skinny kid is pretty big now.
More from George Dohrmann on Patrick Arnold and thefuture of performance enhancement, at SI.com/more.
"I'm the one going to prison, and [athletes whoused THG] are still playing," says Arnold. "I got the raw end of thedeal."
"People wonder what I will come up with next,"says Arnold. "I have some ideas. I don't want BALCO to be mylegacy."