Sun, Oct 19, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Grand jury subpoenaes pro athletes

PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS Victor Conte, the head of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, said that 40 Olympic and professional athletes must face questioning


The founder of a laboratory that provides nutritional supplements to some of America's top sports stars said Friday that dozens of Olympic and professional athletes have been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury probing the lab.

Victor Conte, whose Burlingame-based Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) was raided in early September by agents of the Internal Revenue Service and a San Mateo County narcotics task force, said in an e-mail to AP he was told by athletes that 40 of them have been called to testify starting next week.

Conte said he has not been subpoenaed. But sprinter Kelli White, who has been associated with BALCO, told the San Francisco Chronicle she had received a grand jury subpoena.

Federal officials refused to comment Friday on whether a grand jury was looking into the case.

In addition to being raided last month, an anonymous coach who turned in a used syringe containing a designer steroid to the US Anti-Doping Agency said he got the substance from Conte. The steroid turned out to be tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG.

Until recently, THG was undetectable in doping tests. After analyzing the substance and adjusting its tests, USADA retested the samples of hundreds of track athletes and said several had tested positive for THG -- a violation that could lead to a two-year suspension.

In other e-mails to the AP, Conte said he was not the source of the substance -- and said that USADA was incorrect to refer to THG as an anabolic steroid.

"My opinion is that this case is more about politics than science," Conte said. "There is absolutely zero evidence that this substance has any anabolic effects."

USADA chief executive officer Terry Madden said the ongoing inquiry into THG use has expanded to include US professional sports.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Friday he could not comment on whether the NFL was involved in the USADA probe, but said the league will soon include THG in its steroid tests.

"Is this something we are or will be testing for? The answer is yes," Aiello said in a telephone interview. "This is clearly a new type of steroid and we will be testing for it. Nobody was aware of it until recently."

Some international anti-drug officials said they were stunned by the USADA announcement.

"The use of designer drugs is something we thought was restricted only to the former East Bloc countries," Christiane Ayotte, of an International Olympic Committee-accredited lab in Montreal, told the Toronto Star. "It is a major, major scandal ... This is the tip of the iceberg."

BALCO analyzes blood and urine from athletes, then prescribes a regimen of supplements to compensate for various vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Among its clients are top track stars, as well as baseball's Barry Bonds and the NFL's Bill Romanowski.

Bonds has been a BALCO client since the winter of 2000, and in the June issue of Muscle & Fitness magazine he credited Conte for a personalized program that includes nutritional supplements.

"I visit BALCO every three to six months. They check my blood to make sure my levels are where they should be. Maybe I need to eat more broccoli than I normally do. Maybe my zinc and magnesium intakes need to increase," Bonds said. "Victor will call me to make sure I'm taking my supplements, and my trainer Greg will sit near my locker and stare at me if I don't begin working out right away. I have these guys pushing me."

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