None of that has stopped athletes from using performance-boosting drugs. They are skeptical not only of the proposition that testing will catch them but also of the proposition that it will catch their competition. "We've lost the trust of the athlete," says Vrijman, the Netherlands' testing official. Ironically, the IOC catalog of 200 banned substances has come to serve as a shopping list. "The best advertisement for athletes to find drugs is to put them on the banned list," says Vrijman. The logic is impeccable: "That tells the athlete that this drug improves performance, or we wouldn't ban it."
And every year there is new stuff to try. One performance-boosting substance growing in popularity is Insulin Growth Factor-1. Since it is naturally produced by the body, the presence of IGF-1 in a urine sample can be explained away easily. Insulin pulls nutrients into muscle tissue, thus promoting muscle growth.
In Atlanta traces of a drug relatively new to testers appeared in the urine samples of athletes from Russia and other Eastern European countries. The stimulant was ultimately identified as bromantan, and its use by athletes was so new—although it had been used by the Russian military to keep troops alert and to adapt quickly to extreme heat and cold—it was not yet on the banned list. The drug's benefits were not fully understood, nor its dangers. That hardly mattered. When the word that bromantan had the potential to improve performances got around, the drug did too.
A great silence enshrouds the world of covert drug use. What athlete wants to confess to a practice that would taint the authenticity of his performance—and to a felony to boot? Retired athletes too have no incentive to tell a truth that would bring shame to their careers. A British bobsledder, Mark Tout, failed a drug test last year and openly discussed his steroid use. That inspired exactly no one else to come forward.
The continuing pervasiveness of drugs in the Olympics and other sports competitions has even spawned a small but vocal movement that promotes legalizing the use of anabolic steroids and other banned substances. One who has articulated this argument is Dr. Norman Fost, a visiting professor of bioethics at Princeton, who says in lectures and writings that steroids are not appreciably different from certain legal foods and drugs that enhance performance and that the health risks of steroids have been seriously exaggerated. "The widespread use of anabolic steroids by athletes is upsetting to many people, but it is not clear why," Fost began a 1983 piece published by The New York Times. "The objection that steroids provide an 'unnatural' assist to performance is inchoate. Many of the means and ends which athletes use and seek are unnatural. From Nautilus machines to...Gatorade, their lives are filled with drugs and devices whose aim is to maximize performance."
That's nuts, says Catlin. If drugs were permitted, he says, "then we would just have a race among pharmacologists to find better and stronger drugs. Now at least they [athletes] have to worry about being detected."
Clearly, that race is already on, and drug testing is serving as no deterrent. "People like to think that things are better since Ben Johnson," says Dutch track coach Henk Kraayenhof, who has trained world-class runners for 20 years. "I argue the opposite. If anything, Ben Johnson's getting caught promoted drug use.