The IOC itself has scheduled a summit to address the state of drug testing in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 22-23. Since the Olympics, it has pointed to the testing results in Atlanta more than once as evidence that testing discourages drug use. But critics describe the IOC's testing program as crippled by bureaucracy and politics, tolerance for the use of banned substances and flawed testing methods. The $2.5 million drug-testing effort in Atlanta was, in fact, almost comically ineffective. To augment testing done with a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (the device that turned up the two positives), the IOC brought in a vaunted new piece of equipment, the high-resolution mass spectrometer (HRMS), that would supposedly be able to catch athletes who had used steroids in the previous two or three months. During the Games the HRMS revealed what appeared to be five positive tests for anabolic steroids. But the IOC threw the results out. Olympic officials, fearful of expensive lawsuits—many an athlete who has tested positive for steroids has sued an athletic federation, the IOC, a lab or a meet sponsor—decided that the positive tests might not stand up in court because the mass spectrometer was still relatively untested.
Even if the IOC's equipment were both proven and technologically cutting-edge, eliminating drug use from Olympic sports would be no small challenge. The users range from weightlifters and shot-putters and bobsledders to swimmers and marathoners and gymnasts. (While male gymnasts might typically turn to steroids to get stronger, some female gymnasts are said to intentionally retard their growth by taking so-called brake drugs, such as cyproterone acetate, a substance sometimes used to reduce the sex drive in hyperlibidinous men.) Says Kees Kooman, the editor of the Dutch edition of Runner's World magazine, "All athletes someday have to choose: Do I want to compete at a world-class level and take drugs, or do I want to compete at a club level and be clean?"
Over the years athletes from the former Eastern-bloc countries, the Netherlands and China have been known as heavy users of performance-enhancing drugs, but American Olympians, at least in the eyes of the U.S. public, never have been so stigmatized. That is a misperception. "I've had American athletes tell me the were doing performance-enhancing drugs," says Voy, "Most of these athletes didn't really want to do drugs. But they would come to me and say, 'Unless you stop the drug abuse in sport, I have to do drugs. I'm not going to spend the next two years training—away from my family, missing my college education—to be an Olympian and then be cheated out of a medal by some guy from Europe or Asia who is on drugs.' "
"I would say nearly every top-level athlete is on something," says Michael Mooney, a California bodybuilder and authority on steroids who used to help athletes with questions on how to use the drugs most effectively and now designs steroid regimens for AIDS doctors to prescribe to their patients. "What bothers me are the hypocrites, the athletes I've talked to who I later read are talking about how bad steroids are. The number of these supposed steroid-free athletes—very well-known athletes—who have contacted me about how to pass (drug] tests in just the last year blows my mind."
In 1993 the head of the IOC's medical commission, Prince Alexandre de Merode of Belgium, told a British newspaper that he believed that as many as 10% of all Olympic athletes were regular users of performance-enhancing drugs. At the time, that statement made headlines. Now the 10% estimate seems hopelessly naive. In a rambling interview with SI on Monday, De Merode said, "I am not unhappy about the situation. More and more, high-level athletes have to be treated like normal workers. We have to be able to face the courts. People don't realize that our power is very weak. We have power only at the Olympic Games. The federations and national governing bodies have...more power. Everybody is doing it. Nobody is taking note that an actor, a singer, a politician or a truck driver is taking drugs. They don't have tests. We have tests. We have made a lot of progress."
Drug insiders see it differently. According to those interviewed by SI, three distinct classes of top-level athletes have emerged in many Olympic sports. One is a small group of athletes who are not using any banned performance enhancers. The second is a large, burgeoning group whose drug use goes undetected; these athletes either take drugs that aren't tested for, use tested-for drugs in amounts below the generous levels permitted by the IOC or take substances that mask the presence of the drugs in their system at testing time. The third group comprises the smattering of athletes who use banned performance enhancers and are actually caught. To be caught is not easy; it only happens, says Emil Vrijman, director of the Netherlands' doping control center, when an athlete is either incredibly sloppy, incredibly stupid or both.
Of course, avoiding detection does require an effort. The days of an athlete's simply turning in a bottle of somebody else's urine are over. As degrading as it may sound, an official is now required to watch the athlete urinate. Even that's not foolproof: Cases have been reported of an athlete urinating before an event, inserting a catheter up his or her urethra and using the equivalent of a turkey baster to squeeze someone else's urine into his or her bladder.
Of course, an athlete who refines his use of banned performance enhancers need not worry about giving a urine sample. If an athlete stops taking water-based steroids—the most common kind—within two weeks, there is, typically, no detectable drug left in his urine. And that's being cautious. Says Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who was stripped of his gold medal in the 100 meters after testing positive for anabolic steroids at the 1988 Olympics, "There are about six dozen drugs on the market, as far as I know, and some, like water-based testosterone, leave the system in a day," an assertion confirmed by several experts on steroids and other performance-enhancing substances. Even with the most commonly used water-based steroids, the two-week period can be shortened. "Let's say I have a deal with a lab under which I can send your urine to test your [steroid] levels," says Voy, assuming the role of an illicit-drug adviser. "Then I just play around. I adjust the doses. I know exactly when to get you off to fall below the [drug-testing] radar. If I can get you off nine days before your event, we've got it made, because chances are you're not going to lose any of your [strength and endurance] gains in that period. It's simple biochemistry."
"I know athletes who take their urine to a women's health center in West Hollywood," says California-based steroid expert Jim Brockman, a self-trained biochemist and trainer whom athletes have contacted about steroid use and how to hide it. "The lab is important. You have to constantly monitor your usage."
But what about the random, out-of-competition testing conducted by some sports federations, including FINA, swimming's world governing body (following story)? Doesn't that scare athletes?