What follows is a very interesting interview of Victor Conte, infamous head of BALCO, who was convicted and jailed for his role in administration and management of doping, PEDs, and has since been helping various authorities in an effort to improve testing in a variety of sports based on his knowledge of doping. This article is primarily about baseball and sprinting, but I'll quote the article here so that I can highlight certain points and their relevance to tennis and to the latest incidents.Source
I phoned Victor Conte Thursday to get his take on Ryan Braun, Biogenesis, and the Jamaican sprinters facing possible legal action for PEDs.
Conte, remember, doped many Olympians and others, but, after serving a prison sentence for his role in the BALCO scandal, came back to the good side and now crusades and campaigns to strengthen PED testing in all sports. Trust him or not, he knows his stuff.
Here’s a transcript of most of our conversation:
Ostler: How you been?
Conte: I’ve been kind of laying a little bit low. Three weeks ago I had back surgery. I’ve been recovering nicely. . .The incision is about eight inches long. It was a six-and-a-half hour surgery, and I lost quite a bit of blood.
Ostler: Well, if you can’t heal from this, nobody can. . .What did you think of the Ryan Braun stuff?
Conte: I put him in the same category as Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong, in that they vehemently deny, then they use not only the media, but in Marion’s and Lance’s cases, they used the judicial system for PR purposes. In Ryan Braun’s case—and this is what I don’t like about what the lawyers do and the advice that they give to these elite athletes, they full deny-deny-deny, and attack people like me, or they attack the guy that collected the sample. . .When the (athlete) knows that he was cheating, that he did it intentionally. (Braun) kind of had that same Marion Jones-type thing of wagging your finger and scolding people, “How dare you question me!”
If I had to give advice to these people that are using drugs that do get caught: Come forward as quickly as possible, tell the truth, express that you made serious mistakes, and take your consequences and knock off all this monkey business about delaying the process, fighting the process. And it comes from lawyers and it’s all about financial gain.
I’ve had the lawyers giving me bad advice. I fired ‘em and got other lawyers, and I did what I thought was the right thing to do. I went on television and I told the truth. . .It’s all about protect your financial earning capacity. Lie, drag it out, delay. In my opinion, that is bad advice.
If you go back and look at what I did. I never said I didn’t do it. . .I never said that I didn’t give performance-enhancing drugs to athletes. Very quickly I came forward, went on “20-20,” said “It’s a huge mistake, I joined this culture, this is what goes on at the elite level of sport,” and I specifically said that I believed 80 percent of baseball players were using stimulants and 50 percent were using steroids, etc. So if you look at all those involved, I was really the first one that went to prison and got out, and therefore I was able to do what I can to join the collective effort to help create a cleaner world of sport.
Marion Jones drags this out for . . .five years, 2003 to 2008, and there she is on the courthouse steps, “I’ve shamed myself.” It could have been over. Just step up, tell the truth, then you can move on with your life sooner. . . She’s got kids, she dragged it out for five years. She could have stepped up, said, “I made a serious mistake, I shouldn’t have done this,” give back the medals, accept your consequence and she would have been back to being a mom and raising her children five years earlier.
That’s the message, if I had to give to these 20 to 80 players that are getting ready to be outed, would be step up, tell the truth, be sincere and apologize and accept your consquences.
Ostler: What causes these athletes to go on this hyper-offensive? Is it arrogance, or are they lost in a fantasy world?
Conte: I believe it’s lawyers. I’ve been involved in cases, and that’s exactly what they tell you to do. Don’t say anything, then basically tell lies. . .
(Because of the delaying tactis) It’s all the more difficult now for (Braun) to ever have people believe what he says. I do believe that for the most part, in society, we do expect to receive forgiveness. . .You’re going to have to accept appropriate consequences. In my case it was going to prison.
I was the leader, Scott, I’m not going to drag other people down, they were following me. So I took the full consequences and the full punishment. . .I did what I had to do, and thereafter realized, for all the right reasons, that I had to meet with USADA, meet with WADA, meet with all these anti-doping officials, and do what I can to contribute to the collective efforts to try to clean this up.
There will always be haters, people who will never forgive me for what I did, but I think as time goes on more and more people are realizing that my desire to help create a more level playing field for athletes of the future is genuine.
Ostler: What do you know about Biogenesis.
Conte: They were using growth hormone, and various forms of testosterone. (For the testesterone delivery) They used Troches, they’re like Life Savers, and they have 30 different flavors—you want raspberry, you want bubble-gum, you want cinnamon—typically these have 75 milligrams of testosterone, and somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of it gets absorbed, and it’s my understanding that the guys were popping a couple of these per day. And what that means is, say you absorb on average 10 percent, well that’s a total of 150 milligrams (total), so you would absorb about 15 milligrams per day. A healthy male produces about eight milligrams per day, so you can double and even triple your testosterone level.
But it’s the timing. . .When you take this stuff, it peaks at about four hours, and by six hours after you take it, you’re back down below the (allowable) 4-to-1 T-E ratio. So all they gotta do is, after a game, even if they finish at 10 o’clock, they take it, and by the time they wake up they already have a normal T-E ratio.
Ostler: How did Braun get caught?
Conte: When they bake these (drugs) in what they call compound pharmacies. . .maybe they made it and there was a variation of the dosage, or (Braun) used it a little bit too late the night before, therefore his T-E ratio was elevated that next day. Whatever the reason, he knows what he was doing.
One other thing is that when Melky Cabrera tested positive, I said there would be more positives, that this is T-E ratio is the biggest loophole in MLB testing, and . . .the next day, Bartolo Colon tested positive.
At the time, I said the problem is that they’re not doing this carbon-isotope testing, CIR testing, which will detect the use of synthetic testosterone for up to two weeks. . .I’d be willing to bet that (MLB) tests urine samples (with CIR testing) in less than five percent (of tests), and likely less than one percent.
Well recently they came out with another statement that proves I was right, they said, “We’ve revised our policy, and we’re now (CIR) testing 10 percent of the samples.” I believe it was less than one percent. They were using it as a confirmatory test, not as a screen test.
Ostler: So if they’re testing, say, 10 percent with the CIR testing, should they be testing more?
Conte: I do believe they should be testing more. All along, what I’ve been telling the Olympic officials, and WADA, that you need more intelligence with your testing. You should be target-testing people. So if you gather intelligence or there’s a rumor, or if all the sudden some guy is racking up this big spike in his numbers in performance, then you target-test that guy. . .There needs to be some kind of target testing.
Their argument (against more use of CIR testing) is, “This is too expensive.” Well, the test costs $400. . .The two biggest loopholes in major league testing are, one, this (allowable) T-E ratio of 4-to-1, when normal ratio is 1-to-1, and you can fly under that radar.
The second problem, and probably even a bigger loophole, is offseason testing. They can test up to 375 players, or about 30 percent of MLB, and they only test about 5o players, or less than 5 percent. If you’ve got a genuine interest in busting people, you put your hook and line in the pond when you know the fish are biting. They’re not doing that. So a lot of this, I believe, is propaganda. They’re out there promoting, “We’re doing this and we’re doing that, the toughest testing in American sports,” but I believe it’s all a joke.
(Conte said that designer or stealth steroids are now detectable and have fallen out of use.)
So they go old-school, come back and use fast-acting testosterone, like your body produces. The only way to (detect) is using this CIR testing, for $400 bucks a pop, and they’re testing these guys, on the average in baseball, twice a year. . .Here’s what my understanding is. . .They test in spring training, then, shortly after training camp, early in May, damn, these high-profile players get tested again, and in most cases, what does that mean? Green light, open season, “I’ve had both tests.”
If they’re going to give you that (loophole), and you know other guys are doing (steroids), you calculate the risk-to-return. What (punishment) are you going to get, 50 games? The incentive is too great and the consequences too minimal.
What’s the biggest lie of all? It’s Bud Selig saying, “The steroid era is over.”
The players know that the testing is inept. You have to be dumber than dumb to get caught (by test) using testosterone.
Lot of people don’t realize, 1984 through 2000, I did everything the right way. I worked with many, many world-class athletes, I worked with entire professional football teams. . .Then I realized how rampant it was, and Olympic officials were in on it, the test coverups, and I just decided to join the culture.
(Braun) is going to realize that, beyond the money, the most difficult aspect is going to be his family—his kids and his brothers and sisters and their kids, and everybody’s going to be talking at work and at school. . .That’s the punishment right there.
Ostler: If a player is absorbing 15 milligrams a day of synthetic testosterone, are there dangerous side effects?
Conte: I think the side effects are overblown. There’s. . .taking a replacement dosage, as they call it, testosterone replacement therapy, which is really replacing the normal amount, not double or triple. But let me put it in perspective. Pro bodybuilders, some of them take 5,000 milligrams in a week. That will cause all sorts of damage. Your body produces in the neighborhood of 50 milligrams per week and these bodybuilders are taking 5,000.
There’s a difference between use and abuse. And I know people say it’s the fountain of youth and so on. . .It’s a small percentage of people who really need it.
A couple years ago the Giants were in the playoffs, against Philadelphia, on FOX, and the commercial, “Are you a shadow of your former self?” Oh, my god, FOX and baseball are promoting testosterone. So what kind of message is this giving?
I believe the executives, Players Union and MLB, have enormous accountability and responsibility here. I think they do know they can take steps to make the testing more effective. I’m not so sure there’s a genuine interest there in busting everyone they could. They want to look like they’re doing a good job, but do they really want to flush this out? I’m not so sure about this.
Ostler: What about the Jamaican stuff (sprinters busted for alleged use of steroids)?
Conte: Well I’ve believed for a long time that it is state-sponsored doping. I believe the Jamaican Olympic Committee is in on it, I believe the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commision is in on it, I believe they’re being tipped off. When Usain Bolt gets a $6 million piece of beachfront property in exchange for winning the gold medals, this is tremendous for tourism in Jamaica—and understand, these are my opinions, right?—and I said this a long time ago, I’m highly suspicious of this, and I’m going to tell you when it started.
In 2008 I was asked by(British sprinter) Dwain Chambers to write a letter to the UK anti-doping (commission) listing all the drugs that I gave these athletes, the seven or eight different drugs, the purposes, the frequencies, the dosages, etc., which I did. This was in March. Then in May or June when they have the Jamaican Olympic trials, Veronica Campbell. . .competed in the 100 meters, she was already an Olympic gold medalist, she came in fourth and ran 10.88, which is very fast. And I thought, “Who are these other runners, that she doesn’t even make the team?”
Shelly-Ann Fraser, I looked it up and in 2007 her PR was 11.31. Less than a year later she goes to the Olympics and wins in 10.78. Now that is more than five meters faster. Who improves five meters in one year? So I went on the record. . .”Oh, my god, this is highly suspicious.” Bolt’s fastest time was something like 10.03, next thing you know he runs 9.72. It was just too much, too soon.
I worked with a couple athletes from another Caribbean country, and (one of them talked to a friend of mine) who calls me and says, “Oh my god, you’re not going to believe this but. . .they won all the medals in the women’s 100, they read your article that was sent to WADA that you gave to the UK, and they’re using all your protocols, that were used by Dwain Chambers and Kelli White, including the T3, the thyroid medication.” So they followed my blueprint, but WADA didn’t pay any attention to it.
I know all the track writers, and in the mixed zone under the stadium in Beijing, they said when (Jamaican) athletes came into the mixed zone to do interviews with the media, that Herb Elliott, who is the head of (Jamaican anti-doping), the medical director who is in charge of collecting the urine samples from the athletes, was chest-bumping with all the guys on the relay team!
Dick Pound wrote a recent report. Two things. One, he followed my recommendation that they do more CIR testing, and secondly, he said the primary problem was that the WADA officials were really looking the other way, they didn’t really have a genuine interest in catching people, that they’re more worried about the political aspects and receiving funding.
Posted By: Scott Ostler ( Email ) | Jul 28 at 4:30 am
Hopefully, you had the patience to read through that. What are the implications of this relating to tennis and the recent incidents?
1. Troicki refused to take a blood test. Note that this is not the same category as a "missed" test, where the player wasn't locatable to take a test, as in missing out of competition testing. He was right there in front of the doping control. It is right in the ATP rule book that a refusal to take a test will be treated the same as a positive. The excuses he used to refuse are not relevant in a couple of ways. He claimed he was sick and had a phobia of needles. The facts are that he had been blood tested before at least 5 times. He also got blood tested the next day. So throw out the phobia as an excuse. Simply being sick doesn't exempt one from a blood test. This is almost ludicrous since many people that are sick take blood tests to find out why. To refuse a blood test based on a medical condition would require a doctor's approval, which he didn't have, or an obvious compelling reason not to take it, like being violently ill, or in such a physical state that would make the physical giving a blood test impossible. Those conditions did not exist.
2. The fact that he took a blood test the next day and it's outcome negative, is irrelevant as you have read in the above article. Many testosterone preparations are fast acting, fast absorbing, and within 6 hours after taking it, you are back down to an allowable T/E ratio (4:1)
3. Tennis does enough testing to present an image that they are trying to promote a cleaner sport.
They catch and publicize a few small fish to give this appearance. But think a minute. If the small fish guys that are being caught have improved their play to make themselves more competitive with the top players, what does it tell you about the big fish? IF a big fish were caught, would the sports organization authority (like ITF), publicize it? Or would they cover it up, like they did with Agassi?
Even though it was glossed over, it speaks volumes that a hotline call to Stuart Miller (Head of ITF anti-doping control) might have made a difference. That is clearly against WADA procedures. The level of Tennis out-of-competion testing is a joke, especially blood testing. 21 OOC blood tests in 2011, 60 something in 2012. Cycling OOC testing is in the thousands. In 2011, Cycling OOC urine tests numbered 2,385 and blood 3,314. In-competition they had 5,515 urine tests and 631 blood tests. Why can't the relatively rich sport of tennis fund and test their players more?
4. It wasn't clear from any of the documents provided, exactly which specific tests where run on Troicki, besides generally saying a urine test, and the delayed blood tests. Did they perform only a T/E test on the urine? If it did not go over the "allowed" 4:1 ratio, then typically they do not do the more definitive and expensive CIR test.
"After a positive T/E ratio test, doping agencies typically require another test. Invented in the mid-1990s, the Carbon Isotope Ratio[CIR] test discerns differences between carbon atoms in synthetically manufactured steroid hormones and naturally produced human testosterone... Both CIR and T/E ratio are urine-based tests... Until an analysis of the second specimen is completed, the T/E result will remain in doubt. Experts say that the second urine sample often undergoes both the T/E and CIR tests." My recommendation:
dispense with the T/E test. It's not conclusive and allows smart dopers to come in under the radar. Do the CIR test on the first sample - it is more definitive of the presence of synthetic testosterone, even if it costs more than a T/E test. In the event of a positive T/E, they end up doing another T/E and a CIR test anyway.
The blood tests are typically used to detect things like EPO (especially 3rd generation forms like CERA) and HGH. HGH on it's own doesn't appear to do that much for performance enhancing. But when combined with fast acting micro-dosing of testosterone, it is very effective delivery agent. But again, the tests must be done immediately, as within 24 hours the substance may become undetectable.
And finally, none
of the various sports organizations (like ITF for tennis, UCI for cycling, MLB for baseball, etc.) should be in charge of policing their own sport. They have too much at stake and it is a clear conflict of interest. An independent agency should be created that is in charge of testing and it's management. The sports organization's responsibility should be to provide sufficient funding for the testing and participate in the hearings and decisions. The only problem with this, is that the various sports organizations have continuously refused and balked at allowing any outside agency to manage the testing in their respective sports.
I wonder why?