U.S. Anti-Doping Agency says it found steroid 'conspiracy'
By ROB GLOSTER, AP Sports Writer
October 17, 2003
An anonymous tipster. A used syringe filled with a mysterious substance that arrives by overnight courier at a drug lab. Enough secrets to fill a good spy novel.
The latest scandal to hit track and field involves a designer steroid and could lead to the disqualification of several U.S. athletes from the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Thursday that several track athletes tested positive in late June for the steroid known as tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG, that until recently was undetectable.
Those athletes now face two-year suspensions.
USADA chief executive officer Terry Madden called it a widespread "conspiracy'' involving chemists, coaches and athletes
that was brought to the agency's attention by an anonymous tip.
"I know of no other drug bust that is larger than this involving the number of athletes involved,''
said Madden, who refused to reveal the names or genders of the athletes, or to be more specific about how many had tested positive.
Madden said the inquiry began in early June and expanded to other U.S. professional sports, but wouldn't give specifics. He said he believes international athletes also have used the steroid, which is taken by putting a couple of drops from a syringe under the tongue.
"What we have uncovered appears to be intentional doping of the worst sort,''
Madden said in a statement before a conference call from USADA headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. "This is a far cry from athletes accidentally testing positive as a result of taking contaminated nutritional supplements.''
Olympic athletes face drug tests at major competitions, as well as random testing between events. Their samples are divided in two and stored for future reference.
The athletes whose "A'' samples revealed THG have been notified and will now have their "B'' samples tested. If those also are positive, a review process will begin. Appeals could last for months.
THG has a chemical structure similar to two banned anabolic steroids, Madden said, but was tweaked to avoid detection. Though THG is not specifically named as a banned substance in world track, it would be considered a related substance outlawed under the sport's doping rules.
"This is a serious warning for cheaters,'' said Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency. "It shows that supposedly undetectable substances can be detected as new tests are developed.''
Madden said the USADA received a call from a man in June claiming to be a track coach. The caller named athletes he claimed were using a steroid that wouldn't be detected by tests then being used by the USADA. The man later sent the agency a syringe containing the substance, Madden said.
After determining the syringe contained THG, the USADA retested 350 urine samples taken from athletes at the U.S. track and field championships in June at Stanford, as well as 100 samples from random out-of-competition tests on track athletes and 100 random samples from non-track athletes.
Madden said the USADA, acting with extreme secrecy while it conducted the tests, contacted federal authorities with the findings.
The anonymous tipster, Madden said, identified the source of the THG as Victor Conte, founder of BALCO laboratory of Burlingame, Calif. The lab supplies nutritional guidance and supplements to athletes ranging from Barry Bonds to Bill Romanowski to Marion Jones.
"Everything that the coach has identified to us up to this time is true. We are fairly certain this substance came from Victor Conte and BALCO labs,'' said Madden, refusing to be specific.
But Conte, in an e-mail Thursday to The Associated Press and other news organizations, said BALCO was not the source of the substance.
"In my opinion, this is about jealous competitive coaches and athletes that all have a history of promoting and using performance enhancing agents being 'completely hypocritical' in their actions,'' Conte said.
Agents from the Internal Revenue Service and a San Mateo County narcotics task force went to BALCO last month. No arrests were made, and IRS spokesman Mark Lessler wouldn't comment on the unannounced visit.
As part of the retesting of the samples from the U.S. track championships, Madden said, officials discovered several positive tests for the stimulant modafinil -- which sprinter Kelli White says she took for the sleep disorder narcolepsy.
White tested positive this summer at the world championships in France for modafinil, and it could cost her a pair of sprint gold medals. Her case is being reviewed by the USADA.