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New Steroid Tests Catch Some U.S. Runners

October 16, 2003

Several track athletes tested positive for a steroid that until recently was undetectable and now face suspensions that could bar them from the 2004 Athens Olympics, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Thursday.

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.

He said the inquiry began in June and has expanded to other U.S. professional sports, but wouldn’t give specifics. He also refused to give details about the athletes or say how many tested positive for the steroid, known as tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG.

``What we have uncovered appears to be intentional doping of the worst sort,″ Madden said in a statement before his 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.

``Rather, this is a conspiracy involving chemists, coaches and certain athletes using what they developed to be `undetectable’ designer steroids to defraud their fellow competitors and the American and world public who pay to attend sports events.″

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 are positive, a review process will begin. Appeals could last for months. Track athletes found to have used steroids would face two-year bans.

THG has a chemical structure similar to the banned anabolic steroids gestrinome and trenbolone, Madden said. 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.

Madden said USADA 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.

Conte did not respond Thursday to an e-mail inquiry from The Associated Press, and calls to BALCO went unanswered.

In an e-mail to the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury, Conte denied BALCO was 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 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 Paris for modafinil, and it could cost her a pair of sprint gold medals. Her case is being reviewed by USADA.

USA Track & Field, in a statement, said it didn’t know all the details of the anti-doping agency’s probe but said those responsible ``should be held accountable for their actions.″

U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said: ``We created USADA to be a leader in the fight against doping in sport. There is no issue of greater importance to the USOC and their effort underscores the commitment we’ve made.″


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