Read It and Weep

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 /by

For a long time now, I’ve secretly wondered about the cops-and-robbers game being played out between users of performance-enhancing drugs and the doping police. Namely, a part of me kept thinking something to this effect: “There’s no way on earth the posse can ever catch up and stop the lawbreakers, because the very nature of their enterprise keeps them one step ahead of the law.” Factor in the barely acknowledged reality that drug-testing is a horrifically expensive undertaking even at the Urine Sample 101 level  (as one source told me, “In testing, you get the accuracy and reliability you pay for”), and that you can make testosterone from things like yams (yep, that’s no typo), and you have a scenario involving lots of high-powered emperors and lots of new clothes.

Today on the subway, I read a story that confirmed my worst suspicions – Brian Alexander’s piece in the July issue of Outside magazine (not sure if it’s free or not – take a shot). Read the whole thing if you care at all about integrity in sports, but here’s one of the money quotes:

I pose that question {Isn’t the enormously complex testing system foolproof?} to {chemist Caroline} Hatton, who laughs at the idea that athletes can’t beat these tests. “People always say, ‘I have always tested clean,’ but not ‘I do not do dope.’” She says. “We hear that and giggle.” Her reaction confirms what other experts have told me. Dopers evade detection all the time.

Did you know, for instance, that Salt Lake City cross-country skiing gold medalists Johann Muehlegg (Spain) and Larissa Lazutina (Russia) got busted only because Catlin’s lab came up with an 11th hour method for testing for darbepoetin, an injectible blood-oxygen booster?

Bottom line 1: The United States Anti-Doping Agency charged 38 athletes with doping violations (including some via the BALCO connection). All in, each violation discovered cost the USADA $320,404. Big number, huh?

Bottom line 2: The system is broke. There may be no way to fix it, although Catlin has an interesting – if unwieldy – plan . . .

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