A Brief History of Drugs in Sport10/26/01
Anavar or Alien Athletes?
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is flushed with victory after catching their first group of athletes for blood doping offenses 31 years after they invented the practice of testing. (Actually, the Finnish athletes were caught because their coach dropped a suitcase out of his car at a gas station that was filled with drugs. Whoops!) WADA president, Dick Pound, crowed, "Athletes who compete clean should be able to do so with the confidence that cheaters will be caught and dealt with accordingly."
Yes, this is the same Dick Pound who is vice president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC keeps WADA under its wing to ensure that this "independent" doping agency is run with the integrity the IOC is famous for. But who is Pound talking to? And now that the IOC has added marijuana to its banned list, what's he smoking?
It's now a matter of record that the systematic use of performance enhancing drugs in sport for more than 50 years has punted performance standards clear out of sight, so far out of sight that no human can attain them without chemical assistance. The magnitude of the benefit available from drugs was suggested in a secret East German report compiled by the STASI (secret police) in 1968, long before doping expertise reached its peak. In this report, Dr. Manfred Hoeppner, East Germany's Chief Medical Officer, recommended the universal administration of steroids to East German athletes. Over the next 20 years, the drug-fueled East Germans wrought havoc upon the record books.
How then have performances continued to improve – even beyond East German standards – since the fall of Communism, if sport has been cleaned up? Either the vast majority of top athletes must not be clean, or they must not be human. Fear not! WADA will protect these superior alien beings from the occasional doped-up earthling!
WADA may appear to be preaching to athletes, but its message of ethics and purity is really aimed at reassuring an uninformed audience to protect broadcast and sponsorship dollars. Extraterrestrial fantasies aside, the athletes are firmly rooted on Terra Firma and, though they can't admit it, they know the message is bullshit. Read on and you'll know it too!
The History of Drugs in Competition
Whenever winning has mattered, athletes have sought an edge over their rivals, making the marriage between drugs and competition as old as sport itself. Attempts to boost Testosterone were already being recorded by 776 BC, when Olympic athletes ingested sheep's testicles – a prime source of Testosterone. Athletes of antiquity used cola plants, hashish, cactus-based stimulants, Amanita muscaria (a fungus), and an assortment of other rudimentary ergogenics with varying degrees of success.
The first documented modern case of doping surfaced in 1865 with Dutch swimmers using stimulants. By the late 19th century, European cyclists were drugging themselves with a variety of "miracle" products, from caffeine and ether-coated sugar cubes to Vin Mariani, a compound of wine laced with cocaine, to allay the pain and exhaustion endemic to their sport.
By the time of the first modern Olympics in 1896, a broad array of performance aids were in currency, from codeine to strychnine (which is a powerful stimulant in sub-lethal doses.) In the 1904 Olympics, American marathon winner Thomas Hicks had to be revived by four physicians after ingesting brandy laced with cocaine and strychnine. He still got his gold medal, of course.
By 1932, sprinters were experimenting with nitroglycerine in an effort to dilate their coronary arteries and later began experimenting with Benzidrine. But the real modern doping era started with the introduction of injectable Testosterone in 1935. Developed by Nazi doctors to promote aggression in their troops, Testosterone found its way onto the athletic field with Germany's Olympic team for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Olympic winners had used oral Testosterone preparations before – notably Paavo Nurmi with a product called Rejuvin during the 1920's – but this was a quantum leap and, contrary to the legend of Jesse Owens, the Germans did win the overall medal count that year.
After the war, the Russians put their captured German scientists to work doping their athletes with the intention of making a political statement through their athletic success on the international stage. This happened in spades when the Soviets made their Olympic debut in Helsinki in 1952. The sudden and completely unexpected success of the Soviet team (and piles of discarded syringes in the dressing rooms) raised a lot of eyebrows, particularly in America, which had its own collection of captured German scientists. The first shots of the athletic cold war had been fired.
Soon, American athletes were using injectable Testosterone and discovering its limitations. Testosterone has equal amounts of anabolic and androgenic activity, meaning that to increase the amount of anabolic effect, androgenic side effects had to be tolerated, among them virilization in females and prostate problems in males. Something better was needed to raise the performance bar to the next level. American ingenuity was up to the task.
The Anabolic Age – Breakfast of Champions
In 1955, John Ziegler, the physician for the US weightlifting team, developed a modified synthetic Testosterone molecule with enhanced tissue building properties. This was the first manmade anabolic steroid. Its chemical name was methandrostenolone; its trade name was Dianabol. Most know it these days as D-bol.
Developed by Ciba Pharmaceuticals, Dianabol soon became widely available and indispensable to weightlifters, football players, and track and field athletes. It spurred protein synthesis and helped muscles to regenerate quickly from the stress of training. And for sprint and power athletes, the drug excited the muscle motor neurons, resulting in more powerful muscle contractions, which is the foundation for higher speed and improved reaction times.
By the early 1960s, according to one NFL player, coaches would place salad bowls full of the tablets on the training tables. Players would scoop out pills by the handful and sprinkle them on their cereal. They called it "the breakfast of champions."
The Pandemic – 1968
The word was out and steroids were spreading fast. They were turning up on the training tables of athletes all over the world. 1968 was the watershed year for East Germany in the steroid sweepstakes with the creation of the most comprehensive, state run doping program ever devised.
That same year, two Olympians, who had enjoyed unexpected success at the 1964 Tokyo Games, arrived at the US Olympic training camp in South Lake Tahoe with a mission. With evangelical zeal, they told everyone who would listen about the benefits of steroids and were quick to attribute their success to Dianabol. Many team members were convinced to start a cycle then and there, although this may have been a case of preaching to the choir.
Interestingly, 1968 was the first time an official complaint about steroids was being heard. This complaint wasn't made by sports authorities, but by the World Health Organization. Apparently steroids were being dumped in some third world countries with a kickback volume incentive for doctors. The doctors became quite creative in finding reasons to prescribe steroids, citing everything from malnutrition to menstrual cramps. Coincidentally, the two main countries cited in the report were Kenya and Jamaica, countries that burst into prominence at the 1968 Olympics.
Break the Rules or Lose
Born out of the misguided notion that it was possible to restore a drug-free playing field when, in fact, one never existed, testing soon evolved from idealism to cynicism. Drugs had no ethical disposition; they were no more disdained than spiked shoes or rubber tracks. They became unethical only after they were banned.
The testers lobbied for a ban, citing ethics, then stepped forward to "solve" the problem they had only just created. They added nothing, generated no result, helped no athlete, yet they attached themselves, limpet-like, to the body of sport. Greatness is an all-out pursuit. Athletes who seek it have always known they couldn't afford to say, "So far and no farther." Now these athletes faced a dilemma: break the rules or lose.
Ironically, drug testing was introduced at the Olympic level in 1968, just as the drug pandemic exploded. Even though the initial tests in Mexico City were superficial and inconclusive, the testers were already declaring victory. And they were right, since their objective was to institutionalize themselves!
At the 1972 Munich Olympics, they caught their first big fish, American swimmer Rick De Mont, for ephedrine. How proud they were! Now they were really making progress, saving the Olympic ethos from a dirty cheat like De Mont. Of course, it turns out he was an asthmatic and had a medical certificate for the medication. But, alas, his paperwork went missing. Now, 29 years later, sport authorities have grudgingly admitted their mistake. Sorry Rick!
There was no turning back. The testers were in there now and they were coming after steroids.
Gold Medal "Recipes"
In the race for anabolic supremacy, research was ongoing throughout the world to develop the best method to utilize steroids. Russian research, based on rat studies, concluded that the most effective dose of Dianabol was .5mg per kilo of bodyweight. Thus Russian sprinters began using approximately 35 mg per day for prolonged periods. This led to the discovery of a new phenomenon called receptor downgrade. Eventually, the body rebels against a continuous over-stimulation of the receptor sites and begins to shut down some of them in an attempt to regain homeostasis (its normal state).
In order to maintain the same level of stimulation, it was necessary to either increase the dose continuously until side effects established a dosage ceiling, interrupt the drug protocol (making training adjustments necessary), or to change the drug or add drugs to maintain receptor affinity. The Russians never really got a handle on this problem and adopted the concept of "key performance years," sometimes taking one or two years off drugs (with the resulting performance drop) in order to have a big year when it counted.
I remember a conversation with Juri Sedych, the world record holder in the hammer, when he found out about the Olympic boycott of 1984. "I took all of 1983 off drugs and got my ass kicked at the World Championships just to be ready for the Olympics, and now this!" Sedych broke the world record several times in 1984 but didn't get the big win he was looking for.
The East Germans approached the problem very differently. They developed a protocol based on the administration of 0.125 mg of Turinabol (an East German variant of Dianabol) per kilo of lean body mass. Their optimal dose was much smaller than the Russian dose and was implemented progressively over a number of years. In addition, they cycled the administration of the drug in order to preserve receptor affinity.
The typical sprint protocol consisted of five blocks of administration annually. The first cycle started in November and ran for four weeks, followed by a two week break. The second cycle started in mid-December and ran for six weeks, followed by a four week indoor competition period in February. The third cycle started March 1st and ran for four weeks, followed by another two week break.
The fourth cycle, also of four weeks, led into the first outdoor competition period which ran from mid-May to mid-June. The fifth and final cycle lasted six weeks and led to the main competition period of the year in August. If the main competition occurred at a different time, the entire season was adjusted accordingly.
This system gave a total administration period of 24 weeks with the rest of the year off. The dosage progressed throughout the year with the peak dose occurring during the final six-week block. As the doctors never determined an optimal time of day for steroids, they administered partial doses throughout the day to maintain an even level. This system maintained receptor affinity and, through a gradual increase in dosage, allowed top performances year after year.
The maximum state-sanctioned dose recorded in the STASI files for a female sprinter was 1650 mg per year, an average of 9.8 mg/day during the administration period or, viewed another way, an average of 4.5 mg/day over the whole year. The maximum dose recorded for a male sprinter was 1850 mg/year, an average of 11 mg/day during the administration period, or an average of 5 mg/day over the whole year. While trivial by bodybuilding standards, it sure got the job done!
The Arrival of Growth Hormone
By the mid-1970's a new drug was introduced in East Germany – growth hormone. Most of the information from this period was purged from the STASI files so little is known of the administration protocol, but obviously something went wrong since they stopped using it in 1982 and covered their tracks by destroying the files after the collapse of Communism.
Dr. Hartmut Hommel, the personal physician of Marita Koch, the 400 meter world record holder, acknowledged that GH had been used before 1982, but had few details as he'd been in jail for "political crimes" until then. Upon his release, he was assigned to medical duties with the Track and Field Association and the first memo to cross his desk was a curt notice, "Growth hormone will no longer be used."
He later discovered that the GH being used wasn't from humans, but rather from pigs! Apparently, the East German authorities couldn't come up with the Western currency to buy the human source GH, then made in Sweden. In any case, results improved substantially without this GH!
Dr. Hommel pointed out the difficulty in getting the real picture of drug use in East Germany. Although he was the personal physician to Marita Koch, assigned by the federation, he had no control over her drug program. Marita was already on record with complaints about her drug protocol. In 1981, she wrote to the STASI to complain because she believed that her main East German rival, Barbel Wockel, was getting more and better drugs because Barbel's uncle was the president of JEV Jenapharm, the company that manufactured East Germany's steroids!
Baritones in the Pool
Not all of East Germany's drug programs ran as smoothly as the track and field protocol. With the swim team, Testosterone remained the drug of choice leading up to the 1976 Olympics. Side effects were becoming obvious with the women swimmers, especially their deep voices. When confronted by the media about the voice changes, the head swim coach replied, "Hey, we're here to win a swim meet, not to sing!"
Of course, the cat was out of the bag after that and others would be free to copy their methods. The swim federation's medical staff decided to take the drug program to another level for the 1978 World Championships. Testosterone was replaced with an esoteric cocktail of hormones. The swim team, which had been all-conquering in 1976, was wiped out at the Worlds. The East Germans fired the medical staff and returned to the basics.
World Champions... of Doping
"The Russians know a few drugs, the East Germans know a few more, but the Americans are the World Champions of Doping!" This memorable quote came from Manfred Donike, the former director of the testing lab in Cologne and IOC Medical Commissioner. An audacious statement, given the IOC's woeful record of catching American offenders, for if testing worked, where were the positive tests to substantiate it? Or was it precisely the lack of positive tests amidst a blizzard of spectacular performances that impressed Donike? In any event, on the anabolic front, everyone now agrees that America was "firstest" with the "mostest."
By the 1960's a wide variety of anabolic compounds had become available and Americans were the first to experiment with combinations or "stacks" of drugs. Of course, the first to be stacked were the first they had – Dianabol and Testosterone. A wide range of synergistic "stacks" soon emerged – Winstrol and Maxibolin, Dianabol and Anavar, Nandrolone mixed with Primobolan and Testosterone, and so on.
While the combinations were being perfected, the dosages were rising exponentially. The Russian experience with Dianabol was being translated for the American audience, only someone forgot a decimal point. The 0.5 mg/kg dosage described in the Russian articles became 5 mg/kg for the American audience!
The American women were beginning to catch up in the anabolic sweepstakes as well. By 1963, sprinters were already experimenting with Dianabol. The West Coast protocol for women was "One a day, every day." This meant 5 mg of D-bol every day between November 1st and May 31st for a total annual dosage of 1060mg.
It all started at this seemingly reasonable level, but it didn't stay there for long! By 1984, one prominent group was using 15 mg/day of Dianabol, 10 mg/day of Anavar, 100 mg/wk of Testosterone, as well as GH and Thyroxin. The annual dose for this group was approaching 8000 mg! Side effects started to show up, ranging from thyroid disturbances to voice changes. One of the girls phoned my top female sprinter to ask how she had avoided any voice changes. She confided the protocol listed above to my sprinter. No wonder they were having problems! They were using twelve times as much as we were!
Ben Gets Busted, or Does He?
Of course the most famous "success" for the drug testers was the positive test on Ben Johnson in1988 at the Seoul Olympics. For those in the know, this positive test led to more questions than answers. The accepted clearance time for Winstrol in 1988 was three days for the oral form and 14 days for the injectable form (Winstrol-V or Strombaject). Ben was 28 days clear, yet the parent compound was found. The parent compound has a life expectancy of 45 minutes to one hour after administration! The testers have claimed that Ben took it just before the race. I can state categorically, no he did not!
Be that as it may, that was then and this is now. The advances in testing have made the threshold of detection ever lower, leading to current clearance times ranging from 14 days for the oral form to as much as 13 months for the injectable form.
Many attempts were made to continue the use of Winstrol-V after 1988. The Russian and Ukrainian athletes tried to shorten the detection limit through IV administration. This worked for a while until testing advances yielded a rash of positives starting in 1993.
Americans Get "Educated"
In 1984, Americans were given access to the Los Angeles Lab, allegedly to teach them the complexities of drug testing. Of course, since even a chimpanzee can figure out how to piss in a bottle, there was another reason. The embarrassment of having 24 Americans flee the 1983 Pan American Games to avoid the new Testosterone test was not to be repeated at the Olympics.
Since losing wasn't an option, the American athletes needed to know how to get around the testing. They soon discovered that the LA lab could only find oral anabolic agents in a lean individual within three days of administration, provided the final few doses were dissolved under the tongue.
They also learned that Anavar was a giant loophole in the testing equation as it couldn't be found at all! In fact, it remained untestable until 1989! Even after it became detectable, it maintained a short clearance time because it fractionated into many small metabolites. Currently it has a clearance time of 10 to 14 days.
GH in the States
Just as growth hormone was being abandoned in East Germany, it began to become popular in America. Initial experience was mixed. Although the GH used in America was from human sources, the dosage was low due to very high cost and limited availability. Most of the early use was by throwers who were used to massive doses of steroids.
Two eager throwers went to a pediatrician to try to score a prescription for some of the rare GH. The doctor became incensed, "Think of the poor dwarf children who won't get to grow because selfish athletes like you have hogged the supply!" The throwers looked down, at a loss for words, until one laughed and said, "Hell Doc, give 'em some roids and turn 'em on to midget wrestling!" Not amused, the doctor showed them the door.
The development of Recombinant, Synthetic HGH in the mid-eighties led to a tremendous increase in availability and a huge drop in price. In a sufficient dosage, GH proved to be a powerful performance enhancer, especially when combined with anabolic steroids and/or Testosterone.
Current protocols in the sprint world call for doses of GH on the order of three to five units, usually administered at night, three times per week. It was found that the effectiveness of GH was enhanced when the GH was injected into the fat pad near the stomach. This caused the GH to be released over a period of several hours rather than the 20 minute "window" provided by an intramuscular shot.
The proliferation of drugs continued as each advance in drug testing met with evermore sophisticated protocols. Testosterone ratio tests were met with the administration of Epitestosterone along with Testosterone to maintain an acceptable ratio. Epitestosterone limits were met with the use of HCG to restore natural T/E ratios. The inclusion of HCG on the banned list led to its replacement by Clomid.
Frequent drug testing led to the use of the blocking agent Probenecid. The banning of Probenecid led first to the use of another masking agent called Defend, and then to the use of designer anabolic steroids, the state of the art today. These designer drugs have their chemical structures modified in such a way as to make them unidentifiable to the drug testers while maintaining their performance enhancing qualities.
The first "designer drug" was, in fact, not a chemically modified steroid, but rather a steroid with an effective dosage so low that the clearance time was measured in hours instead of days or weeks. Up until 1992, the clearance time for Mibolerone (also known as "Chek Drops") was four hours! This was especially helpful for athletes subject to random testing, since they could take it at night and refuse to answer the door till morning.
There were problems with this drug, however. Originally designed to put cats and dogs into heat, it's incredibly androgenic, and it shuts down the body's natural hormone production at an alarming rate. Ten days of use could shut down the user's hormone output by over 90%, leaving the athlete subject to a performance crash after its withdrawal and, as Testosterone/Epitestosterone production approaches zero, the T/E ratio may go haywire and cause a positive Testosterone test. Advances in drug testing sensitivity rendered the drug less interesting until a masked designer version became available six years ago.
Another unmodified drug that became widely used up to and during the Sydney Olympics was Genabol. This drug was brought to the attention of the drug testers in 1984, but as it wasn't in commercial production, a test wasn't developed for it. Once athletes became aware of this loophole, a market quickly developed for the drug.
In a review of the negative tests after the Sydney Olympics, the drug testers saw a suspicious compound on many of their tests and began to investigate. Some months later they identified the compound as Genabol. By the time a test was developed, the word was out and the athletes moved on to newer products.
Currently, clandestine labs are producing designer versions of known anabolic compounds which are synergistic with other untestable agents such as GH and EPO. Erythropoetin is naturally produced in the body to regulate the production of hemoglobin, allowing victorious users to proclaim their drug-free status in interviews while their less sophisticated competitors are still gasping for breath.
To give you an idea of the scope of the drug use of top athletes today, I'll give you the protocol for one top sprint group, as revealed by a defector. Interested athletes, please note that this program was for the year 2000 and has no doubt been changed since.
The athletes were using a 12-week administration of Anavar and Halotestin (administered transdermally) as well as GH (2.5 IU, 3x/week), injections of ATP, AMP with embryonic calf cell preparation 3x/week, insulin (1.5 IU up to 3x/week), as well as EPO. Yes, they even use EPO in the 100 meters!
The most prominent member of this group also uses a modified version of Mibolerone right before his major races. I'm sure the testers will be on top of the situation as usual. Though they can't test him positive, they could provide the starter with a bucket of cold water in case the Chek Drops have their intended effect and this guy tries to mount one of his competitors in the set position!
As you can see, drug use in sports has a long and grand tradition. As T-mag has suggested in the past, perhaps we really should give out medals to the scientists assisting the athletes. That'll never happen of course, but make no mistake, the theme of modern sport regarding drug use remains "business as usual."