No music or pranks were played in the lab. No voices were raised. This was not to suggest that Trout never lost his temper. Certainly he did. Why, he remembered it clearly: the time his box of draughts—similar to checkers—came crashing down on his skull when he opened his wardrobe door, enraging him so much that he smashed them to fragments, which mortified him so much that he fell to his knees and hastily glued them all back together. Four decades ago. Perhaps Trout should be wary. Perhaps he was due.
The color and variety in the lab came mostly from the cheeks and the accents of his coworkers, from the two Malaysians, the Indonesian, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Italian, the Lithuanian, the Syrian and the Bangladeshi who worked with the nine Aussies year-round in the Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory, perhaps the most multicultural Olympic site of all. In stadiums all around Sydney the testers' countrymen would be waving colorful flags, blaring music, chanting and roaring. But here in the lab there was no room for purples or passion, not in a place where one mistake, one false positive, could entangle the lab in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit and strip its accreditation as one of 27 worldwide IOC labs, as had happened to the lab in Brisbane 12 years ago.
For all its seriousness, the lab was a quietly relaxed place most days, but today Trout could feel the tension. His country considered itself more hawkish on sports drug usage than any other on earth, likely leading the world on a per-capita basis in the number of out-of-competition tests it had sprung on its athletes. The gauntlet had been flung down by Jackie Kelly, Australia's minister of sport and tourism. "I challenge any athlete to come down here and cheat," she had declared last year. "If I hear there's a positive, I'll be chasing it down every burrow I can, because it means some athlete has walked off with someone else's medal, and that's not on." Trout wouldn't show the strain, not to anyone. But he had never taken on a monster like this.
He scanned his E-mail, through which the IOC labs sent news of new drugs and new tricks to mask their presence. He made sure one last time that the army of chemists knew their tasks and were aware of the howitzer at their heads: the clock. Already a van was pulling up, and an official carrying samples in two green shoulder bags—their zippers sealed with plastic to prove no one had tampered with them—was heading toward the door. The Piss-house, as some staffers fondly called it, began to hum.
That thick square bottle of lemon-yellow whiz? Is the seal intact? Is the paperwork perfect? Excellent! Now reregister it! That's right, replace the number on it with a new one—our number, not the Olympic organizers', so it's doubly anonymous; we'll have no leaks with these leaks! Into the drill press, bash open that tamper-proof lid. PH-test the sample so we're sure it's fresh. Not a thing we can do now, god help us, if some athlete's bamboozled his chaperon in the toilet, if he's hidden a pouch of clean urine up his rectum or a rubber tube in his pubic hair. Wouldn't be the first time! To the fridge with the B sample, deep-freeze it at -20° Celsius in case we need to confirm a positive. Well done.
The A sample, now! To the Gilson 222XL with it, so it's divided into subportions of one to five milliliters and we can test it for stimulants, narcotics, steroids, diuretics, beta blockers and hCG. No time for questions, but since you asked, that's human chorionic gonadotrophin, the stuff cheaters take to stimulate testosterone production and keep their nuts from shrinking.
To the racks with all those test tubes! Quickly, 125 gallons of urine are a-comin', enough to fill a spa bath. Smell? What smell? Unless our cyclist or freestyler dined on asparagus last night or was so dehydrated from his event this morning that his urine is one of those high-concentrate cocktails, we barely notice an odor. Of course, when we're done and pour it all down the sink—yikes!
O.K. Add the surrogate compound to each test tube, the one we'll use to ensure that our detectors are detecting. Slip the spiked sample into each batch of 20 test tubes, another self-check. Remember our priorities! Weightlifters' and sprinters' urine to the front of the line! Badminton piss? To the rear! Off with them now, to the high-priced hardware, each subportion to a different battery of chemists testing for a different family of drugs. Let's see if we've got any dopers gold-digging today.
First to our steroid hound dog, the HRMS. Inject a portion of that urine sample into the little oven of the mass spectrometer's gas chromatograph, where it'll heat till it vaporizes and separates into its compounds. Now those compounds will take a little ride on a whoosh of helium through a tube. Each compound has its own characteristic speed, see, so the time it takes to flow through the tube provides a clue to its identity. Next comes the moment of truth, the ambush waiting at the end of the tube: a bombardment of electrons that smash each compound into charged fragments called ions, each with a different mass. Measure that mass, graph it against the time it took the compound to exit the tube, and bingo, we've got the goods, a gas chromatogram mass spectrometer "fingerprint" of each compound. Beauty, eh?