Sun, Dec 05, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Steroids scandal in US has been in the cards for some time


Baseball's steroid scandal could be seen coming six years ago. The Olympics have feared the one unfolding now for two decades.

A series of federal grand jury testimony leaks, confessions and new accusations link the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds, the New York Yankees' Jason Giambi and Olympic star Marion Jones to steroids distributed by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.

The revelations are no surprise after years of widespread suspicions that some of the world's greatest athletes have been building better bodies through chemistry.

Baseball shrugged when Mark McGwire acknowledged using androstenedione, an over-the-counter steroid precursor that has since been banned, during his 70-homer season in 1998.

When Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti, two former MVPs, admitted using steroids and alleged many others were doing the same, baseball still did little. Bullied by the players' association, the sport was slow to set up a drug-testing program that even now does not have random, year-round testing.

That head-in-the-sand mentality has come back to haunt the game and tarnish Bonds' pursuit of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron's career home run marks.

Reports in the San Francisco Chronicle that Giambi told a federal grand jury he used human growth hormone and steroids, and that Bonds testified he used a clear substance and a cream supplied by BALCO to his trainer, brought quick condemnation of the sport's approach to performance-enhancing drugs. The substances Bonds described are similar to steroids at the center of the scandal.

"It shows the problem is endemic in baseball," World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound told AP on Friday.

"It also shows that their so-called efforts to determine whether there was a `problem' was limited to anabolic steroids with full warnings to everybody, ignoring all the other stuff that's clearly being used, and followed by a set of ludicrous sanctions. It indicates that baseball is not at all serious about this."

There is no shock, either, in BALCO founder Victor Conte's claims that he sat beside Jones as she injected herself with human growth hormone three years ago, the day before a track meet in California. Suspicions have surrounded Jones for years, and she remains under investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

"She pulled the spandex of her bicycle shorts above her right thigh," Conte wrote in a first-person account for ESPN: The Magazine. "She dialed up a dose of four-and-a-half units of growth hormone and injected it into her quadriceps."

Conte said he started working with Jones, at the request of her then-husband and coach C.J. Hunter, before the 2000 Sydney Games, where she won three gold and two bronze medals.

"I started providing her with insulin, growth hormone, EPO and `The Clear,' as well as nutritional supplements," said Conte, who identified "The Clear" as the designer steroid THG, which could not be detected by tests at the time.

"Victor Conte's allegations about me are not true, and the truth will come out in the appropriate forum," Jones said in a statement to the AP on Friday. ``I have instructed my lawyers to vigorously explore a defamation lawsuit against Victor Conte.''

The Olympics have been worried about a scandal involving this big a star since the Ben Johnson case stained the 1988 Seoul Games.

Jones should be stripped of her Olympic medals if allegations that she used banned drugs before the Sydney Games prove to be true, Pound said.

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