Off track


Issue: "Sciavo: Saved by the bill," Nov. 1, 2003

In the world of international track and field, there may not be new dopers, just new kinds of dope. In the days after what some are calling the biggest steroid bust in sports history, USA Track & Field found itself under attack less than a year away from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The scandal, coupled with American sprinter Jon Drummond's tantrum in France (see WORLD, Sept. 6), has led the United States Olympic Committee to threaten the track and field agency with decertification if it doesn't clean up its act.

At the center of the newest controversy is tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG, an anabolic steroid that boosts athletic performance when injected. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced that it had discovered THG, a "designer" steroid crafted to avoid detection, in mid-October, which created a rush of drug testing by teams and agencies across the world.

Terry Madden, CEO of the anti-doping agency, said earlier this month that all who had tested positive for THG, perhaps as many as six, were track and field athletes. Mr. Madden called it a conspiracy involving coaches, athletes, and chemists. During a conference call, Mr. Madden said THG was coming from Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO, a supplement lab near San Francisco. Mr. Conte, who previously moonlighted as the bassist for the brassy funk group Tower of Power, told Agence France-Presse, "As many will soon find out, the world of track and field is a very dirty business and this goes far beyond just the coaches and athletes."

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Dozens of athletes have already been subpoenaed, including the world's fastest man and woman-America's Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones-according to the San Jose Mercury News. Baseball's Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi have also been called to testify before a federal grand jury about BALCO. In recent years, Mr. Bonds has bragged about BALCO supplements.

The USOC has given the agency until Nov. 17 to submit a plan to solve its doping problem and restore the sport's credibility. USOC president Bill Martin said he would not rule out decertifying USA Track & Field if it did not respond well. "This was tough love from a parent to a high-performing kid," he said. "Sometimes you have to take the kid out to the woodshed to get that kid straightened out."


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