steering for steroids


Drenched in drugs
Beyond biking
Blood doping
Steroids 'n kids
'roid rage


Mark McGwire signs autographs and baseballs.

© AP/Wide World Photos.


Steroid sales skyrocket
Cycling may have invented the wheel, so to speak, but not the idea that doping could make you quicker. Athletes in plenty of other sports are similarly caught in pharmacological follies. The all-time home-run king, Mark McGwire, admits to taking a steroid called androstenedione that, while sold as a food supplement and legal in baseball, is banned in many other sports. McGwire certainly hit a homer for the supplements business: The White House office on drug policy says androstenedione sales jumped fivefold after McGwire's unpaid endorsement.

Mark McGwire signing baseballsSales of a steroid hormone jumped fivefold after the home run king admitted he'd used the stuff

Swimming seems to be an area of rampant steroid use. Irish swimmer Michelle Smith won three gold medals at Atlanta, but was suspended for four years for tampering with a urine test. Four Chinese swimmers were expelled from the 1998 World Championships for taking diuretics, often used to mask drugs in urine samples.

Why so common?
Like a hanging in the morning, the public humiliation of bike racers has had a marvelous ability to concentrate the minds of big-time sports organizers. This February, the International Olympic Committee held a widely publicized -- and widely criticized -- meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, focused on controlling doping by establishing an independent international agency to police sports. The outcome, scoffs Charles Yesalis of Penn State University, was "business as usual" that is unlikely to produce much change.

Yesalis, who has studied the use of drugs in sports for 20 years, says the Olympics face a huge problem: "When is the last time -- in public -- they caught a big-name athlete?" Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was forced to turn in a gold medal 11 years ago. But, demands Yesalis, "What have they done since?" He contends that the International Olympic Committee has been "lying about drugs. There's a lot of good scholarship documenting how widespread they are... Drug use in elite sports has been epidemic at least since the 1960s."

Indeed, the Olympic czars seem to have a tempered concern about doping. One of the newest Olympic "sports" is bodybuilding, probably the ultimate steroid-powered pursuit of physical perfection.

Everybody loves a winner, someone who can jump further, run faster, or compete longer, and fans' ardor clearly helps explain the popularity of drugs. Sports are more exciting when "larger-than-life people are doing larger-than-life things," Yesalis says. "If you heard the announcer say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, you have just witnessed the 154th-fastest 100 meter dash,' if you saw the NFL [National Football League] and it was a bunch of average-sized guys, would you pay $200 to go to one of these games? Would NBC or CBS be fighting like crazy for contracts?"

Yesalis says the inaction against drugs also reflects the status of sports as billion-dollar businesses, with high stakes for competitors, advertisers and sponsoring organizations alike: "There are clearly reasons why they don't want this cut -- from a business standpoint."

We dopes at The Why Files want a clear understanding of how EPO works.

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