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Copyright 2000 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.  
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)

July 23, 2000, Sunday, FIVE STAR LIFT EDITION


LENGTH: 2252 words


BYLINE: Andrew A. Skolnick; Special To The Post-Dispatch


In less than three months, the U.S. Olympic Committee will pass the baton of drug control to a newly established organization called the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Yet, anti-doping experts are raising questions about whether the new agency is independent enough to restore the confidence of both the public and the athletes, who often must choose between a chance at winning or staying clean.

On Oct. 1, the new agency will toe the starting line in hopes of overtaking athletes who cheat. There is a lot of ground to be covered.

For more than three decades, athletes who use performance-enhancing substances have kept far ahead of the anti-doping efforts of sports governing bodies, officials admit.

Among the challenges the new agency faces: a crisis of confidence that has grown over years of drug scandals in sports.

The Tour de France cycling scandal in 1998 left little doubt that well-oiled, international doping operations remain in the sports world. In that incident, customs agents at the French-Belgian border discovered a trunkload of oxygen-boosting drugs, growth hormones, steroids, amphetamines and other drugs in a car driven by a trainer for the Festina team.

That team included French superstar Richard Virenque; world champion Laurent Brochard; and Alex Zulle, twice winner of the Tour of Spain.

This and other scandals have led to the widespread perception that the Olympic Committee and other sports governing bodies have done too little, too late to stop what health experts say is an epidemic of dangerous drug abuse.

This epidemic is threatening the health and lives of athletes from the Olympic Games to grade-school sports, said Robert Housman, assistant director for strategic planning at the White House Drug Policy Office. The latest national survey shows overall illicit drug use by eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders went down 13 percent between 1997 and 1998, while steroid use jumped 15 percent.

"Young people are watching star athletes and following in their footsteps," Housman said. "They're being taught that no matter what sport they pick, their pharmacist can help them.

"We don't even know the full extent of the problem. In some sports, l ike cycling, weight lifting and swimming, it's epidemic. Virtually every single race has one or more cheaters. But we don't know how widespread it is in sports like archery and shooting because we haven't focused on them."

Additional confusion stems from the lack of agreement between sports governing bodies about what should be banned and what should be done to those who cheat. For example, Major League Baseball rules allowed Cardinals home-run champion Mark McGwire to build himself up with the steroid-like substance androstenedione even though it is banned in the Olympics.

The harmful effects of steroids and other illicit drugs span a spectrum from growing coarse hair on a woman's face and body, to enlarged breasts and smaller testicles in men, to psychiatric disturbances and even sudden death.

Doping with one of the most popular new drugs -- erythropoietin (EPO) -- is believed to have caused the deaths of at least 18 elite European cyclists and a dozen other athletes, according to the White House Drug Policy Office.

And the number of cardiac arrests caused by ephedrine and other stimulants taken to boost performance or lose weight continues to mount, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Crisis of confidence

With the 2000 Olympic Games less than eight weeks away, both sports-medicine experts and athletes say disagreements and deficiencies in drug testing will threaten the credibility of any winning performance requiring strength, endurance or speed. Some are predicting that the Sydney Games will be known as the "Hormone Olympics," because testing will not be done for two drugs of choice -- human growth hormone and EPO.

Anti-dopers such as Australian swimming federation president Terry Gathercole are complaining that the absence of tests for these drugs will allow drug cheats to compete -- and possibly win -- at the Sydney Games.

Charles Yesalis, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who is an anti-doping expert, predicts, "The Sydney Games will be the most drug-laden Olympics to date."

Not helping restore confidence is the lawsuit Dr. Wade Exum filed Monday in federal court in Denver against the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

In his suit, Exum, who resigned last month as chief of the Olympic Com mittee's drug-control program, accuses his former supervisors of covering up for many athletes caught using performance-enhancing drugs -- including some medal winners.

Exum also disputes that the new agency is truly independent. He notes that it was created and its board members appointed by an Olympic Committee task force. That task force also appointed Terry Madden, chief of staff to the Olympic Committee's president, to head the agency.

Exum is not the only one voicing concern over what he calls an "incestuous" relationship between the Olympic Committee and the new drug-control agency.

Also skeptical is John Hoberman, professor of Germanic languages at the University of Texas in Austin and an authority on doping in sports. The Olympic Committee's "history of looking the other way lends credibility to Dr. Exum's charges," he said. "Where is the evidence that the USOC has ever been interested in doping control except in regard to public relations?"
For children's sake

Madden, chief executive of the new anti-doping agency, does not share such skepticism.

He says he is taking his new job catching and prosecuting doping cheats seriously for the sake of his three young children. "When my 11-year-old son asked me, 'What's a steroid?' that question brought the seriousness of the problem home to me."

Added Madden, a lawyer and former prosecutor: "We're going to protect the health of athletes, and we're going to protect the innocent. But we're going to catch and prosecute the cheaters."

The agency also plans to take the responsibility of prosecuting athletes out of the hands of the national governing bodies of sports -- a change that those inside and outside of sports have sought.

Sports governing bodies receive more money when their athletes win more medals. No matter what people's intentions were, the old system had an inherent conflict-of-interest that jeopardized the effectiveness and efficiency of anti-doping efforts, Madden said.

The anti-doping agency will tighten up testing protocols as well as prosecution of athletes who test positive, he said. It also will work with the nations of the world to make sanctions more consistent.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency also plans to double the percentage of drug tests conducted without notice. "Our goal is to have 50 percent of all tests unannounced," Madden said.

The agency has few staff members and has yet to appoint a medical director. But Madden expects that it will be able to conduct more than 5,000 tests next year and eventually increase the annual number to between 6,000 and 8,000.

He also plans another symbolic change: to move the anti-doping agency's office from the U.S. Olympic Committee's campus in Colorado Springs to separate facilities elsewhere in town.
Twice the budget

The new agency's budget for its first year is $ 6.7 million -- double this year's allotment for the Olympic Committee's anti-doping efforts. Half of that money comes from the White House Drug Policy Office, $ 2 million of which is earmarked for research to develop new tests for detecting performance-enhancing drugs.

Madden expects that the agency's new programs will be effective enough to assure that the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City will be totally clean for U.S. athletes.

The only hope in controlling doping is to create a climate of doubt and fear among athletes thinking of cheating, says Olympic gold-medal marathoner Frank Shorter, chairman of the new agency's board of directors.

"In my view, most athletes want a level playing field where they don't have to take drugs to have a chance at winning," said Shorter, an outspoken critic of doping in sports.

Among the new policies he expects the new anti-doping agency to implement will be the storage of athletes' urine samples for future testing, when better tests become available. He also is opposed to any statute of limitation for those who test positive.

"Athletes who cheat should fear that one day they may wake up to a knock on their door and have their medals taken away," Shorter said. "We are at the point where this cheating has to end."
Suit alleges interference

At the U.S. Olympic Committee's campus in Colorado Springs, sculptures and displays explain the history and spirit of the modern Olympic movement, which was founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin more than a century ago.

In the visitors center, one such sculpture proudly proclaims "Higher, faster, stronger," the Olympic motto de Coubertin dreamed up -- a dream that was to be achieved by talent, hard work and determination.

Yet many now believe that dream can no longer be achieved without dangerous drugs.

"Athletes who use performance enhancing drugs do not earn medals -- they steal them," retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the White House Drug Policy Office, told an International Olympic Committee conference last year in Switzerland.

In testimony before Congress, McCaffrey also has said that doping is threatening the safety of the athletes and the trust in organized sports.

"Drug-using athletes verge on creating records that honest human performance cannot best," he said. "We seriously risk the creation of a chemically engineered class of athletic gladiators."

In his suit, Exum, who served at director of the U.S. Olympic Committee's anti-doping program for nine years, accuses the committee of throwing "roadblocks" in the path of his drug-control efforts.

"In recent years, absolutely no sanction has been imposed on roughly half of all the American athletes who have tested positive for prohibited substances," his suit alleges. The suit also accuses the committee of racial discrimination.

Exum's complaint cites allegations of various acts of interference from superiors who had no medical backgrounds, including Jim Page, a former head of the U.S. Nordic team who had been banned from the sport for authorizing the blood doping of a team member.

The Olympic Committee is "running a controlled-doping program rather than a doping-control program," Exum said in an interview last month. So far, he has not made public any evidence for his assertions.

On Friday, Exum held a news conference in Denver to answer questions concerning his lawsuit. Shortly after, the U.S. Olympic Committee held a news teleconference, during which it categorically denied all of Exum's charges. Richard Young, an attorney hired by the Olympic Committee to investigate some of those charges, said he found no evidence of any cover-up or other impropriety.

"When I asked Dr. Exum for specifics, he could not provide one single case of a cover-up," added lawyer Scott Blackmun, senior managing director for sport resources. "What we have here are opinions rather than allegations."

Blackmun, who was Exum's boss, also categorically denied his charges of racial discrimination.

Dr. Robert Voy, who as Exum's predecessor headed the U.S. Olympic Committee's anti-doping programs for six years, shares some of Exum's skepticism on whether the new agency is going to be truly independent or effective.

"From the list of committee members, I don't see much of a change in attitude, philosophy or ingenuity of approach, at least at this point," he said. "Until there is a truly independent program that can be trusted, token anti-doping programs will perpetuate use of drugs in sports rather than stopping it."

But not every authority is pessimistic. Housman at the White House Drug Policy Office agrees that the record will be a burden to overcome, but he calls the establishment of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency an "enormous step forward." Removing the responsibility of prosecuting and disciplining athletes from the national governing bodies is a major advance, he said.

While his office is providing half of the new agency's budget this year, whether it continues to fund the agency will depend in part on how well the agency does. Housman says he is confident that the agency will be able to restore the trust of both athletes and the public.

Nevertheless, he agrees with critics who say it's too soon to judge whether the U.S. Olympics anti-doping program is on the road to recovery. "We will have to judge what is done, not what is said," he said.

National sports governing bodies have been responsible for overseeing drug controls at the Olympics.

Those same bodies get more federal money when their athletes return home with medals.

Performance- enhancing substances become more prevalent as more athletes do what they think they have to in order to bring home the gold.

Prosecution will be transferred from national sports governing bodies to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Testing protocols will be tightened.
Athletes who test positive will face tougher penalties.
The agency will work inter- nationally to make sanctions consistent.

The percentage of drug tests conducted without notice will be doubled.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO, GRAPHIC (1) Color Photo by the Associated Press - Sanderlei Parrela of Brazil raises his hands in victory May 14 after winning the 400 meter event of the Rio Gran Prix in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Parrela was suspended by the International Amateur Athletic Federation for failing a drug test after the event and may miss the Olympics. (NOTE: The caption for the Three Star edition on this photo ended with "Sidney Olympics".)
(2) Photo by the Agence France-Presse - Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe and wheelchair athlete Louise Sauvage display their "True Champion" passports in Sydney last week. The passport is part of the Australian Government's Tough on Drugs in Sport strategy, which gives personal testimony to the anti-doping ideals of Australian athletes by documenting their drug testing history with the Australian Sports Drug Agency (ASDA). The initiative targets elite Australian athletes competing for places in Olympic and Paralympic teams for the Sydney 2000 Games.
(3) Graphic / Chart - Policing the Summer Games - Testing athletes for drug use through the years
(year)     Drug tests conducted       Doping cases discovered
1969       667                        1
1972       2,079                      7
1976       786                        11
1980       645                         0
1984       1,507                      12
1988       1,598                      10
1992       1,848                       5
1996       1,923                       2

LOAD-DATE: July 23, 2000

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