Armstrong’s defenders: parallels with religious fervor

Unless you’ve been chained in a basement somewhere or in the throes of a drunken blackout, by now you’re aware that Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner and the most decorated cyclist in history, has been banned for life from the sport by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association (USADA) as a consequence of the case the agency has been building against him for months, if not years. Armstrong is charged not only with cheating via chemical enhancement, but also with trafficking, possessing, and administering banned substances. USADA also stripped him of all of his TdF titles, though the body lacks the ultimate authority to do so — that will fall to the International Cycling Federation (UCI). For any one of a thousand similar breakings of the story on Thursday afternoon, try this one in the NY Times. Continue reading “Armstrong’s defenders: parallels with religious fervor”

In which I beat the Onion to the punch, if not outdo the publication outright

The source of the best parodic romps in the multiverse was late to the party with its recent article “Contador Cleared Of Doping By International Cycling Federation’s Doping-Clearing Board,” and a surge of immodesty and a general lack of restraint compels me to point out that I satirized this issue myself on this blog months ago. I actually think my own “article” was more Onion-esque than the Onion’s own, but that’s kind of a self-defeating proposition, isn’t it?

Contador, Landis, others opt to forgo doping suspensions

Alberto Contador, the winner of the 2010 Tour de France who was revealed this week to have tested positive for the mild stimulant drug clenbuterol late in the race, and disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis have said that they will decline to accept any current, past or pending suspensions as a result of their violation of doping-control policies, stating that they’d much rather continue racing for fame, money, and notoriety instead.

The Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency, which administrates and coordinates the athletic world’s version of the War on Drugs, released a statement in the wake of the cyclists’ revelations. “While we believe that athletes are beholden to the policies concerning performance-enhancing substances that are set forth by their disciplines’ governing bodies,” the statement read in part, “we will respect the intentions of Messrs. Contador and Landis and wish them a speedy, healthy and above all clean return to international competition.” Continue reading “Contador, Landis, others opt to forgo doping suspensions”

Cyclist Hamilton flunks another drug test; ‘fesses up, retires, cites depression

Former Tour de France cyclist Tyler Hamilton of the United States has tested positive for the steroid dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), ending the long career of an athlete whose later years were–in a way subtly reminiscent of the disturbing tale of Marco Pantani–marked by struggles, controversy, and penalties.
Hamilton, unlike so many athletes who fail doping control tests, made no attempt to create excuses, laughable or otherwise, for the drug being in his system. Instead, he cited reasons unrelated to performance enhancement for taking it.

Hamilton admitted to knowingly taking the substance which was an ingredient in a vitamin supplement he took in an attempt to alleviate depression. He has decided to retire.
“I took a banned substance so I need to take whatever penalty they will give me and move forward,” Hamilton said. “Today is about my leaving the sport and to talk about my depression, not the past. I don’t want to talk about that anymore, it’s about moving forward and taking care of myself.”

Five years ago, the 38-year-old Hamilton was caught “blood-doping,” a procedure in which red blood cells withdrawn from an athlete’s own body are frozen and reinjected after the body has replenished the lost cells naturally, thereby creating a supranormal oxygen-transporting capacity. Until a little lass that two decades ago, this was the only method available for grossly boosting RBC count. Then EPO and its derivatives hit the scene, rendering blood-doping old-school and cumbersome–until tests for EPO came out. Then endurance athletes went back to the old way in an attempt to gain an advantage without being caught. But there are tests for blood-doping, too, as Hamilton and others have discovered.
The article details what ultimately led Hamilton from a conventional antidepressant to the DHEA-containing kind:

Dr. Charles Welch, at Mass General hospital in Boston diagnosed Hamilton with clinical depression in 2003. He was prescribed Celexa as an anti-depressant for the next six years. According to Hamilton, he took amounts double the prescribed dosage for two weeks in January when his mental health declined further after his mother was diagnosed with cancer.
Severe side effects caused him to stop taking the prescribed medication at the end of January. According to Hamilton, his mental health continued to decline without prescription medication during training camp where he purchased Mitamins Advanced Formula for Depression.
Hamilton claims he took the suggested dosage for two days prior to the out-of-competition urine test. USADA’s legal limit of DHEA found in the urine is 100ng/mL. Hamilton’s urine sample was tested at UCLA where lab technicians found 130 ng/mL of DHEA in his urine sample.

DHEA, although a steroid-based molecule and therefore banned, but its performance-enhancing capabilities are questionable.

DHEA is a natural hormone released by the adrenal glands and the synthetic form is primarily marketed as an anti-aging drug, an anti-depressant and for muscle growth. It is one of the only steroids in the USA not classified as a controlled drug and does not need FDA approval to be sold over the counter. According to Scott, it is banned by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and USADA because it is an andro-related substance. Technically, however, DHEA has very little performance-enhancing effects on the body.
“There is no scientific evidence or basis for this steroid to be a performance enhancer,” said Scott. “It is fair to suggest that the probability of DHEA having a performance effect on anyone, at any amount taken is inconceivable. There is no good reason to take DHEA, this is a very foolish drug to take because it is readily detectable, but it has no performance enhancements.”

It seems plausible that Hamilton either wished to be caught or did not care, given his age and his frame of mind. It’s an unfortunate story, and without absolving him of blame–not that he’s asking for this–I’d be inclined to take Hamilton at his word when he says he wasn’t looking for DHEA to make him a better cyclist.

Christians should amulet A-Rod’s behavior?

The only reason I didn’t immediately dismiss this blog post as satire is that I got the link through one of the e-mail updates I began receiving yesterday at the rate of one every several hours (I don’t recall providing the American Family Association with my e-mail address, but morbid fascination and cheap yuks is keeping me from unsubscribing).
For one thing, the post is dated December 16th, 2008, which is unlikely since the topic is New York Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez’ admission that he has used anabolic steroids. Perhaps the post really has been up for two months and represents the first documented instance of a fulfilled prophecy related in some way to Christianity.
Moreover, it’s an unintelligible wreck, and in the kind of way that hints at a capable writer making an extremely hard try to attempt looking, like he is less unintelligent then stupid. See? If I had to pick a favorite it would be “Barry Bonds denies to this day that he never took steroids” or “what I will gleam from the handling of this situation,” but there’s plenty to choose from.
In terms of the topic, the writer suggests that A-Rod’s honesty in the face of “sin” is to be praised, and that people going through their own troubles might model their actions after his.

Alex Rodriguez got busted recently for using steriods. We have all see it in the news, and we will hear and see about it for some time. But did A-Rod do something that Christians should use as an example?
One of the major problems I see in the church today is our lack of openness towards the areas in our life that we may be struggling with. It is a rare case to see someone admit openly to a sin, and then be congratulated for it. In fact, the church today is viewed as a place to go and “appear holy”. We put on our nice clothes and our smiles as we go to church and act like our lives are going great. When in reality statistics show that sin is just as prevailant in the church as it is out of the church. The only diference… outside of the church people can be honest, but in the church we are ridiculed.
The truth is until we can become open with our weaknesses, we can never fully live a Christian life. 1 Corinthians 12:9 tells us that only in our weaknesses can God become strong in our lives. We are a broken and sinful people, and we can not understand God’s grace until realize this, and that makes us strong children of God.

Folks, A-Rod is not the worst person in the world. He was one of over 100 Major Leaguers whose urine showed evidence of banned substances in 2003 in one of pro baseball’s first testing salvos. Until that year, baseball didn’t even have an official steroid policy, although it should be noted that possessing anabolic steroids (classified as controlled substances) without a doctor’s prescription is against the law. Lots of these guys cheat, and they all know it’s endemic. Sports being a multi-bazillion dollar worldwide enterprise, doping versus testing is a classic arms race, with dopers battling other dopers for supremacy in their competitive arenas of choice.
But the fact is that he confessed when he had no alternative except for the looniest of denials. His confession in the wake of repeated and vehement claims that he had never used steroids was the lesser of two significant evils–forge on with a badly tarnished reputation but a comparatively clean slate, or keep lying as documentation of his lies continued piling up and other lying athletes went to trial and, in some cases, to jail. Given the goods the feds have on him, he would basically have to possess a flat-earth mentality in order to prop up his shredded exterior of innocence.
Oddly, the writer acknowledges that Rodriguez admitted using drugs only after this became public knowledge, yet lauds him for “confessing” anyway. In theory, something has to give in the mind of a person simultaneously proposing these things, unless the mind itself has already given. Then, anything is possible.
Of course, I could simply be missing the whole point here. Maybe the writer is claiming that Christian leaders should rise up, admit what the rest of the world already knows (that they’ve been full of shit about a great many things for a long time), and return to discussing and dealing in reality only to the extent that practical and cultural forces compel them to. That I can accept.
Anyway, as a kid who grew up following the Red Sox, I suspect this was actually written not by a Christian but by a typical Yankees fan.

Catching up with sports dopers: benzothiazepines

The drugs athletes use to gain an illegal edge in take one of two general forms: they are variants of (most often) steroids already known to, and tested for, by doping authorities, chemically modified to make them less detectable or undetectable in screenings; or they are drugs developed in order to treat familiar diseases, with their effects on strength, speed, and endurance being merely a happy and happenstance finding among “sports pharmacologists” who then deploy them well before testing authorities get wise.
The former “class” become more popular in the 21st century as technology on both the cheating and testing sides has become more elaborate–in the past, drugs use for doping were invariably drugs already on the market and developed for the purpose of treating illnesses. In the case of the latter, testers have an especially difficult job when the “drug” is actually a substance produced naturally in the body that has recently entered mass synthetic production thanks to recombinant technology. Perhaps the best-known example of the is erythropoetin (EPO), a hormone produced in the adrenal glands that stimulates the production of new red blood cells. Originally used to treat anemia, most often in people with chronic kidney disease or cancer, it quickly became a favorite of distance runners, Nordic skiiers, and cyclists because of its immediate and marked effects on aerobic capacity. It has spawned a number of synthetic cousins since the early 1990s, notably darbepoetin.

Continue reading “Catching up with sports dopers: benzothiazepines”

Eric Holder’s NFL steroid-scandal involvement

Barack Obama’s pick for the top cop in the United States has an interesting past, having been enlisted by the NFL to combat the onslaught of congressional hearings and other forms of bad publicity last year.
The attorney-general-to-be and deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton was a partner in Covington & Burling, a D.C. law firm that has long extended services to the NFL. Since 2001, Holder has been involved in the investigation of the dog-fighting charges against Michael Vick, the implementation of the rule requiring team owners to interview minority candidates for coaching vacancies, and the league’s personal-conduct crackdown, some elements of which have reached silly proportions.
Holder and his supporting cast did not get what they hoped for last year, and law-enforcement officials have called his efforts a mere attempt to keep the league from suffering further black eyes rather than an earnest attempt to curb a performance-enhancing drug problem:

Continue reading “Eric Holder’s NFL steroid-scandal involvement”

Gold medalist Pettigrew admits to EPO, hGH use

With the perjury trial of sprint coach Trevor Graham — one of the most drug-soaked figured in professional athletics — now underway, the habits of some of track and field’s recently retired superstars are being thrown into the light of day, and the view is predictably discouraging.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that Antonio Pettigrew, a member of the USA contingent that ran a world record of 2:54.20 in the 4 x 400 meters in 1998 and part of the squad that won that event at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, admitted to using erythropoetin and human growth hormone at Graham’s urging in 1997, the year Pettigrew turned 30.
Sprinters do not routinely peak in their early thirties, but in 1999 Pettigrew, then 31 years, 6 months old, ran his lifetime best of 44.21 seconds. Among athletes older than this, only former world record holder Butch Reynolds and the man who broke Reynolds’ mark, Michael Johnson, have ever run faster. Reynolds once served a drug suspension and the likelihood that Johnson was clean throughout his career is, in the judgment of track insiders, basically nil.

Continue reading “Gold medalist Pettigrew admits to EPO, hGH use”

Tim Montgomery sentenced to 46 months in prison

Tim Montgomery, who once held the distinction of being the fastest man on the planet with a 100-meter dash time of 9.78 seconds, is about to become a number of a vastly different, much less celebrated sort.
The 33-year-old one-time partner of Marion Jones — also a former sprint superstar and also sentenced to jail (she’s serving a six-month stint for perjury and obstruction of justice in a Fort Worth facility) — has landed almost four years in prison courtesy of Judge Kenneth Karas, who told Montgomery, “”Being a track star does not somehow disable someone from saying no.”
Actually, I wouldn’t count on that. Tim Montgomery Jr., Jones’ and Montgomery’s four-year-old, is one of four children the Montgomery has fathered.
Montgomery, who pleaded guilty last year to his role in a scam that saw him deposit $1.7 million in fake checks, is also facing charges for heroin distribution. Marion Jones may have had a longer fall from her pinnacle (she held five Olympic medals) to Earth than did Montgomery, but the latter is clearly en route to digging himself much further into ignominy and an all-around bleak future than Jones, whose legal problems will at least be over by fall.

A drug-free Olympics? That’s a good one!

So says someone who should know. Victor Conte, the head of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) in Burlingame, Calif. who spend four months in the federal pen for his massive role in supplying professional athletes with illegal performance-enhancing drugs, has seemingly done nothing but thrive rhetorically and even professionally since serving his slap-on-the-cuticle penalty. He has turned his blunt and almost charming realism into an asset that keeps him squarely in the center of the drugs-in-sport issue as those he served line up to face federal perjury charges and Conte himself remains immune to further prosecution.
CBC Sports out of Canada has an article about the upcoming Games vis-a-vis drug use that reviews BALCO’s role in the more recent chemical maelstroms and solicits Conte’s ideas not only on drug use itself but — somewhat in the manner of law enforcement bringing a jewel thief on board to help with safecracking techniques — how to best fight it. This passage captures what continues to be a media and public-opinion blind spot on the issue:

Continue reading “A drug-free Olympics? That’s a good one!”

Bonds hit with 14 counts of lying to a grand jury

The BALCO trials are officially underway, and its targets are finding out that it’s not about the drugs anymore — it’s the dishonesty, stupid.
If Barry Bonds believed that his fame and fortune would allow him to slide on federal charges, he may be starting to rethink that philosophy. The government has far more resources that the all-time dinger king could ever dream of, and if it’s one thing the feds don’t let pass with wink-winks or slaps on the wrist, it’s lying to them.
The wording of the AP story is amusing:

Continue reading “Bonds hit with 14 counts of lying to a grand jury”

American track and field about to be walloped with the ugly stick: Trevor Graham on trial

If there’s one name that should have sent any sane sprinter barreling in the other direction in the past decade, it’s Trevor Graham. Here is a guy who, in a septic and darkly impressive feat, has managed to be linked to virtually every doping scandal involving American track and field athletes since at least the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The North-Carolina based Graham was Marion Jones’s coach toward the end of her career, and it was Graham who anonymously provided the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency with a syringe containing traces of “The Clear,” a preparation containing the synthetic anabolic steroid THG, or tetrahydrogestrinone.
Graham, a member of the Jamaican 4 x 100m team that took silver at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, is scheduled to go on trial on May 19 for lying to the feds about his role in providing athletes with banned substances directly and referring those he did not supply himself to a Texas-based source. Although various high-profile athletes who have trained under or alongside Graham have already tested positive for or admitted to using illegal performance enhancers — among them Jones, Tim Montgomery, Dennis Mitchell, Alvin Harrison, Justin Gatlin, C.J. Hunter, Jerome Young, Michelle Collins, and Bozo the Clown (okay, just checking) — the list is about to get a lot longer.

Continue reading “American track and field about to be walloped with the ugly stick: Trevor Graham on trial”

Sprinter Montgomery indicted on heroin charge

In the early part of this decade, Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones were a celebrated couple in track and field, with each solidly entrenched at the top of their respective sexes’ 100-meter game. Many already know what became of Marion, who was stripped of her four medals in the Sydney Olympics and now sits in a Fort Worth jail after admitting to perjury and taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Now, Montgomery and Jones are engaged only in a race to the bottom.

Continue reading “Sprinter Montgomery indicted on heroin charge”

Gene deletion allows some to beat testosterone screen

Reseachers in Sweden have discovered an important means by which athletes can unwittingly beat testosterone doping urine tests.
Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm studied 55 men and learned that a substantial fraction of the population is missing one or both copies of a gene that codes for an enzyme responsible for an important step in testosterone metabolism — the addition of a gluconuride group to the hormone. A multitude of substances undergo this hepatic process, which converts fat-soluble molecules into water-soluble substances that then pass into the urine.
The men were injected with a large (500 mg) dose of testosterone — the most common culprit (43 percent of dirty urines) in failed drug tests administered under the aegis of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Those with either one or both copies of the gene in question failed with flying colors, although the metric used to establish a positive test — the ratio of testosterone to an inert epimer, epitestosterone, in urine — was markedly higher in those with two copies. The other 17 men demonstrated no rise or only a slight rise in T:E.
The researchers noted that two-thirds of Asian men and about 10 percent of Caucasians lack both copies of the gene, giving them, in the words of doping guru Don Catlin of the University of California at Los Angeles, “a license to cheat.”
Presented with this new information, the obvious question is, what’s a WADA to do? There are other, more expensive tests for testosterone use, which are normally used only after an athlete has already tested positive using the traditional T:E screen. But it is not feasible at this point to test, for example, everyone of Asian descent using the more expensive screen, and there is no way to know in the absence of DNA analysis which 10 percent of Caucasians to test. And the issue of DNA testing itself raises serious ethical questions.
Anyway, look for the Chinese to have a barrel of bulked-up fun on their home turf in August. That nation is already notorious for its doping practices (not that the U.S. and other countries are anywhere close to blameless), but it stands to reason that the Chinese have already heard about this and, knowing there is nothing to be done in time for the Beijing Olympics, will not hesitate to work this quirk of genetic fate to their competitive advantage.

Sprinter Jenkins hands US Anti-Doping Agency its first loss

LaTasha Jenkins, who won a silver medal in the 200 meters at the 2001 World Indoor Track and Field Championships and a bronze in the same event at that year’s World Outdoors, has spoiled the perfect record of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in charging athletes with doping offenses — on a technicality.
Jenkins, 30, tested positive for the steroid nandrolone in July 2006. USADA, per its duty, leveled a doping offense against the sprinter, who, per its custom, appealed. In December, an arbitration panel ruled that Jenkins’ urine samples were not handled in accordance with World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) protocol, which requires that pee-pee be tested by two different lab technicians.
WADA appealed the panel’s decision in February, but announced the other day that it was dropping its appeal. That in turn dropped the USADA’s record before arbitration panels to 35-1.

Continue reading “Sprinter Jenkins hands US Anti-Doping Agency its first loss”

Woman cyclist convicted of perjury in BALCO case

Tammy Thomas, banned for life in 2002 after testing positive for a steroid and physically ravaged by the masculinizing drugs she took, was found guilty on Friday of lying to the same grand jury that Barry Bonds faced concerning the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) performance-enhancer distribution fiasco.

Thomas was the first defendant in the BALCO mess to go to trial, making the score a quick 1-0 in favor of the prosecution.
I wonder if she wore that hat to the trial.

AP photo/Noah Berger

The drug she tested positive for, norbolethone, toiled in obscurity for nearly four decades after its 1966 invention, but numerous athletes have submitted urines dirty with the androgen in the new millennium. It is probable that its revival is owed to the presumption that it would be less detectable using modern tests that target more contemporary substances.
As the Chron story notes, Thomas was found by a physician to have undergone many of the classic virilizing changes women steroid users experience, and to a remarkable extent.

Continue reading “Woman cyclist convicted of perjury in BALCO case”

“When you were asked about steroids back then, you lied.”

Sports Illustrated writers Jack McCallum, David Epstein, and L. Jon Wertheimhave collaborated on a great infotorial series about performance-enhancing drugs, “Steroids in America,” reminding us that in a society in which people constantly asserts that dope is ruining us all, these vanity chemicals are more symptomatic than pathogenic.

Rather than finger superstar jocks for being failed role models, the piece if anything suggests why the mixture of drugs, fame, and adulation represents all-American success by a real metric if not a healthy one.

Continue reading ““When you were asked about steroids back then, you lied.””

A Brief History of Slime (6): Marion Jones starts prison term

Sprinter Marion Jones, sentenced in January to six months in prison for doing what practically everyone involved in the BALCO and Major League Baseball doping scandals continues to do (i.e., lie to investigators), turned herself in to a facility in Fort Worth, Texas on Friday to start her term. She should consider herself lucky; because she’s in the pokey, she’ll be insulated from the general citizenry of Fort Worth.
The AP article, though as desultory as most wire-service stories, contains a few curious elements. One is this:

Continue reading “A Brief History of Slime (6): Marion Jones starts prison term”

A Brief History of Slime (5): Gatlin poised for reinstatement?

Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100-meter champion and 2005 double World Champion (100m and 200m) who has been under a doping suspension since May 2006 after a failed testosterone test, will receive support from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) when he appeals his ban — originally set at eight years in August 2006 by a U.S. arbitration panel — to the Court of Arbitration in Sport, an international body.
With this announcement, Gatlin now has both the IAAF and, oddly, the U.S. Anti-Doping Association (USADA) advocating for his reinstatement. Specifically at issue is whether Gatlin’s 2006 positive may be considered a first violaton, which would require that Gatlin’s 2001 positive test for a banned stimulant to be retroactively ignored owing to Gatlin’s previously documented ADHD. The IAAF reinstated Gatlin in 2002 after he served about half of the standard two years on the sidelines for a first offense, and his career quickly blossomed.
An appeal in January reduced the original eight-year ban — which, in accordance with IAAF rules pertaining to second offenses, could well have been a lifetime ban instead — to four. If Gatlin’s new appeal is successful, he’ll be eligible to compete in the U.S. Olympic Team Track and Field Trials, which will be held in June in Eugene, Oregon.
The entire affair is something of a curiosity. It would be one thing if Gatlin were simply appealing a positive doping result — i.e., if he were hoping to overturn a nascent or impending suspension. But here is a man whose entire doping history has been interpreted and reinterpreted in a variety of jurisdictions and who, regardless of whether or not he took stimulants on purpose seven years ago, seems almost certain to have knowingly juiced with testosterone before being caught in 2006.
For better or for worse, though — and many in elite track circles believe that Gatlin, while technically as guilty as the next doper, is more likely than most to have been victimized by his various handlers — with both an adamant drug-testing body and the world’s sole authority on elite-level track both in Gatlin’s corner, betting against his reinstatement would seem like an act of folly.

Not-so-novel hGH test gathering Olympic-year momentum?

Soon I will continue my very loosely scheduled series of posts focusing on the pharmacology of androgenic steroid use and testing, but an interesting development out of the United Kingdom warrants a brief shift in focus.
In 1999, Peter Sonksen, an endocrinologist at St. Thomas Hospital in London, was busy developing a test to detect the supplementary administration of human growth hormone (hGH) for a period of up to two weeks after an athlete’s last use. The now-jailed sprinter Marion Jones has admitted to using hGH, as has Sylvester Stallone, although only one of them is enough of a shitbird to continue bragging about it.

Continue reading “Not-so-novel hGH test gathering Olympic-year momentum?”