Some Dope on Doping

With the election of a new head for WADA, Barry Bonds indictment, the immanent publication of the Mitchell investigation into drug use in Major League Baseball I thought it would be a good time to talk about doping in sport. I have tried to stay away from this topic after posting quite frequently on this in past Blogs, but since I just finished reading the book Steroid Nation by ESPN The Magazine writer Shaun Assael it made me think more about why we have arrived at this place and time in regard to doping. I think he does a pretty good job of documenting what has occurred since the 1980. He put a big emphasis on the role that the supplement industry plays in the drug culture. A major focus of the book is Dan Duchaine and the Underground Steroid Users Handbook. Frankly I think that is a bit overdone. He fails to mention Dr Robert B. Kerr MD a physician from San Gabriel California and author of “The Practical Use of Anabolic Steroids with Athletes.” I think Dr Kerr was a major player in enabling athletes to beat the system in the 1980’s. He mentions nothing of the “informational testing” that was used by United Sates sport governing bodies to enable American athletes to beat the system going into the 1984 Olympic Games. This was a “service” offered to the athletes to come and be tested. In my opinion it was a thinly disguised system to teach them how to beat the tests.

Despite efforts coasting hundreds of million dollars, it is a greater problem now that ever. It has grown to these proportions because too many for too long chose to ignore the problem in the hope that it would go away. It has been with us in sport since the 1950’s.If you don’t believe me read Muscletown USA – Bob Hoffman anf the Manly Culture of York Barbell by John D. Fair. The origins of drug use in the United States is well documented here. In the early 1970’s the American College of Sport Medicine came out with a position paper on Anabolic Steroids. The basic premise was that the research indicated that they did not enhance performance. That was the party line; obviously the athletes and coaches knew they did benefit performance. My first personal exposure to anabolic steroids was my senior year in high school in 1964. A teammate of mine whose father was drug rep gained twenty five pounds of muscle from the end of football season to the start of track season. He told me has dad had given him these blue pills that he took everyday for a couple of months. Since I wanted to gain weight to play football in college I went to his dad and asked him how I could get those pills. He told me I would have to get them from a doctor. Now I know it was Dianabol. I did not, since I had an aversion to doctors and pills, still do. So I kept gorging myself and had more protein shakes. Frankly I never thought more about again until I started competing in decathlon and saw what was going on. Recognize that at that time anabolic steroids were not banned, there was no testing. At the same time I saw people getting bigger and stronger when the ACSM was telling us that they did not work. Dr Wesley Ruff, my advisor in graduate school at Stanford, gave me an unpublished study done at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic on anabolic steroids that showed spectacular gains in muscle mass. The study was done in the late 1960’s.Incidently it was the same drug that Ben Johnson was caught for.

If you want to learn more read the Dubin Inquiry report, the result of the inquiry into the doping surrounding the Ben Johnson affair. It names names and places blame. If you really want to be blown away read Brigitte Berendonks book Doping Dokumente: Von Der Forschung Zum Betrug. Unfortunately it has never been translated into an English edition. I have a rough translation, when I read it I was blown away as to the breath and depth of doping in the eastern bloc countries. To say that used systematic doping does not begin to describe the extent of doping and the resources devoted to doping. A good article by Berendonk and her husband Werner W. Franke in Clinical Chemistry 1997;43:1262-1279 http://www.clinchem.org/cgi/content/full/43/7/1262 “Hormonal doping and Androgenization of athletes: a secret program of the German Democratic Republic government” is a good overview.

So much has been made about the increasing sophistication of the testing and so much publicity has been given to those that are caught. Everyone in baseball is on pins and needles waiting for the report from Mitchell, but the cheats are out there working to beat the system because the stakes are so much higher. The fact is that the outlaws are ahead of the law. It is analogous to a 400 meter race where one opponent, the dopers, were given a 100 meter head start, you will never catch them. This was a huge problem before money was much of a factor in sport, now that a gold medal is worth millions and the huge player contracts that are available, the stakes are even higher. Without sounding paranoid I think this is a vast conspiracy involving commercial sponsors and sport governing bodies that initially chose to look the other way and now are deeply involved. There are athletes and teams that are protected. You have to be pretty dumb to get caught. What is the solution? I do not know and I am not sure anyone does. I am afraid we can look forward to a roman circus freak show if things keep going the way they are.


At 11/25/07, 1:15 PM, Blogger The Iron Maven said...

Thanks for this post, Vern. I'd heard some stories about some the tactics various US coaches/NGBs used leading up to and during the 84 Olympics. Hard to believe--given the party lines now--but the fact that there was "informational testing" available, just knocks me out. And I have heard others in your generation speak of the blue Dianabol pills flowing freely in the football lockerroms and college weightrooms.

In a really ironic development, it appears the US now has no men currently qualified in weightlifting for the 2008 Olympics. This has not been confirmed by the IWF yet, but now that the drug testing results are back from Chiang Mai (16 popped--no US athletes), our 27th place team finish in the combined '06/'07 World Championships (last place to get 3 male athletes qualified), has been usurped by Tapei, by possibly as little as .2 points. Devastating for the US men. They will have to struggle for one or two spots at the 2008 Pan Am Championships (against Cuba, Columbia and Venezuela) and the Olympic Test Event in January--Casey Burgener lifting alone. This may be the first Olympics without any US men in weightlifting.

The US women qualified the maximum 4 slots (9th place) and were not affected by the changes.

The Canadian women, however, have moved up in the team rankings now, so they have 3 slots, out of a possible 4, for the games. Good for them!

At 11/25/07, 2:55 PM, Anonymous Kristof said...

Have you read "Faust's Gold"? It's a short read and gives a pretty good insight into the doping situation in East Germany in the late 70' and 80s. The author of the book is also friends with Berendonk.

At 11/28/07, 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

on the note of substances can anyone tell me what OTC energy drinks contain NCAA banned substances?

At 12/20/07, 4:31 PM, Anonymous Steroid.Nation said...

Your personal story is compelling. Could you write up a post for us at Steroid Nation??



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