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Drugs in Sports

May 20, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


SPORTSCASTER: ( Cheers and applause ) Look how fast she stomped on the athlete out in front of her.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of America’s top track athletes admitted using performance-enhancing drugs yesterday, and was suspended from racing for two years. Sprinter Kelli White, who won the 100- and 200-meter races at the world track and field championships last summer, will now miss this summer’s Olympic games in Athens. The 27-year-old had been seen as a gold medal contender.

The suspension is the latest in a growing drug scandal in American sports, and it was highly unusual. White did not fail a traditional drug test. Instead, she admitted using steroids and a blood-boosting agent after being confronted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency with documents and other evidence. The USADA manages drug testing of athletes in Olympics-related sports. The evidence in the White case came from a federal investigation of a company known as BALCO, the bay area laboratory cooperative. Its owner and several others were charged this winter with conspiring to sell banned drugs to athletes.

Other prominent athletes, including Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones, have been mentioned as targets of the drug investigations, but none charged. Jones is fighting back publicly. On Sunday, she again denied using illegal drugs, and threatened to go to court if necessary.

MARION JONES, Olympic Gold Medal Winner: If I make the Olympic team, which I plan to do in Sacramento, and I’m held from the Olympic games because of something that somebody thought, you can pretty much bet that there will be lawsuits. I don’t have a problem with saying that at all.

JEFFREY BROWN: For her part, Kelli White said in a statement yesterday: “I have not only cheated myself but also my family, friends and sport…I am sorry for the poor choices I have made.” White also said she will cooperate with the ongoing investigation, and anticipated that other athletes would be charged this summer.

JEFFREY BROWN: For more, I’m joined by Dr. Gary Wadler, associate professor of clinical medicine at New York University, and a member of the world anti-doping agency, which coordinates efforts to fight drug use in sports around the world. And Liz Robbins, the Olympics beat reporter for the “New York Times.” Welcome to you both. Liz Robbins, you covered these athletes. How significant is this suspension of Kelli White?

LIZ ROBBINS: This is really a watershed for sports right now. It sent seismic shock waves throughout the athletic community because people are not as focused on the name and the athlete but what it could actually mean for other athletes. She has agreed to cooperate with the United States Anti-Doping Agency in trying to explain a lot of the other evidence, which could incriminate other athletes, and anybody who was named on the BALCO investigation and had actually gone to testify before the grand jury, these names are being bandied about, and there are a lot of other athletes who were not involved who are wondering, well, are they clean or not? It really will send a ripple effect right now that a lot of people think, well, maybe next week we’ll be seeing more admissions and perhaps more suspensions.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Ms. Robbins, as we said in our setup, she did not fail a traditional drug test.


JEFFREY BROWN: What was the evidence from the BALCO case that she was presented with?

LIZ ROBBINS: We do not know. She has not talked about her relationship to BALCO, nor has she divulged her grand jury testimony. She was told not to discuss this by both her lawyer and her public relations team. We don’t know what the evidence is. But yesterday her lawyers released a letter to us and other media outlets, and it said that Jones really wanted the anti-doping agency to come back and test all of her samples that have ever been out there, any samples that are lying around, and she wanted to say, look, I’m clean, take a look at the evidence, and if you don’t believe me, let’s go and discuss things and I’ll be able to come to you and we can discuss whatever materials you have that you have a question about where my name comes up.

There was, in addition, there was a check that was sent from her account that we reported about a month ago, it was a check for $7,300, and it was sent in September right before the Sydney Olympics. There are two people who believe that she was not the one who signed it but her ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, who is banned because he tested positive for a steroid. That’s the only connection that we can see right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: Gary Wadler, I think when something like this happens, what everyone is wondering is how deep it goes. What can you tell us at this point about why these drugs are being used and how extensive their use is?

DR. GARY WADLER: Well, it’s quite extensive, and it goes back many years. This is not a new phenomenon. It’s a growing phenomenon. You can anticipate it becoming more complex as new drugs come to the market and some find their way into illicit hands for illicit uses. The athletes are using them for a variety of reasons.

One is to get stronger; others to increase their recovery time; others to increase their speed; others still to increase their endurance and combinations of these drugs have been around and are becoming increasingly prevalent. It’s not only elite athletes. We know that, for example, three-and-a-half to 4 percent of high school students have used anabolic steroids, and I’m not including dietary supplements like Andro.

Since about 1998, since the Maguire episode, we have been besieged with a series of events which has caused us as a nation to do some national introspection as to how pervasive this problem is, whether we’ve seen the statistics in baseball or the BALCO incidents or the Maguire story, I can go on and on and on. We have really got to look right square into the issue as our national heroes and heroines now have this doubt hanging over their reputations and other their heads.

You know, as a nation, we have responded, whether it was the president in the state of the union, or whether this new bill introduced into the Senate redefine steroids or into the House of Representatives or if it’s the FDA taking action because of the Beckler death related to Ephedra or whether it’s other agencies, we are seeing as a nation. But also internationally we have seen the adoption of a very important document less than a year ago, the world anti-doping code, which is 50 percent governments of the world working with the sporting bodies. In the United States we have the United States anti-doping agency. We are really seeing our resources as a nation and internationally come together about a problem that seems to have really taken root and is growing and getting more and more complex day by day and year by year.

JEFFREY BROWN: But what I wonder, I think what a lot of people wonder, is whether the technology of hiding the drug use continues to outstrip the technology for uncovering it.

DR. GARY WADLER: Well, I think that’s a very poignant question, and just two years ago I had the privilege of chairing with Dr. Ted Freeman, one of the gene therapy experts in this country, we convened a conference of the top geneticists in the world together with sports scientists right here at the Banbury Center in Cold Spring Harbor to begin to explore our mutual areas of concern as we move forward. Just a month ago under the auspices of the United States anti-doping agencies, we had some 80 scientists from around the world with sports experts representing some 18 and 19 countries, looking at growth hormones and what we need to do to begin to better define issues in terms of detection. We’re beginning to develop alliances between the people who manufacture and regulate and do research on drugs with those of us who have to deal with the unfortunate aspect of the abuse of those drugs.

JEFFREY BROWN: Liz Robbins, as you said, Kelli White has said she will cooperate with the investigation.


JEFFREY BROWN: What kind of evidence might she have, and who should be worried?

LIZ ROBBINS: Well, the evidence is actually with the anti-doping agency now. What we’ve been told is that there are actual lists and schedules of drug use for some of the athletes who were working with BALCO. There are e-mails that contain certain peoples’ names, and there might actually be evidence such as blood tests or urine tests that were sent to an outside lab, and that while they do not have, as far as we know, peoples’ names on names on them specifically, they might actually be written in code. And since she was part of BALCO, she might be able to describe what that code is.

DR. GARY WADLER: If I might add…

JEFFREY BROWN: Doctor… yes, go ahead.

DR. GARY WADLER: If I might add, this is a non-analytical anti-doping violation. That doesn’t mean something was found in the urine or something was found in the blood. Possession, distribution, evading tests, there’s a whole array of violations which do not require a positive determination in the laboratory. I think it may be within that context that this is being viewed.

JEFFREY BROWN: Dr. Wadler, we just have a few seconds left. I wanted to ask you, you heard what Marion Jones said, that she may go to court. Do you expect court cases coming before the Olympic Games this summer?

DR. GARY WADLER: Well, I think you’re seeing the collision of our judicial system, both the civil and criminal, in juxtaposition to the world anti- doping code. And what I think is happening now is you’re seeing them approach each other centered somewhere in San Francisco, and I think we’re sort of beginning to feel each system out. There are really two separate systems, but there is obviously some interception and interface going on, and I think that still has to be worked out as we move forward.

JEFFREY BROWN: Okay, thank you very much Gary Wadler and Liz Robbins.