SI Vault
Gary Smith
September 18, 2000
Armed with new methods for detecting EPO, Graham Trout and his colleagues at Australia's Sports Drug Testing lab have Olympic cheaters in their crosshairs.
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September 18, 2000

Gotta Catch 'em All

Armed with new methods for detecting EPO, Graham Trout and his colleagues at Australia's Sports Drug Testing lab have Olympic cheaters in their crosshairs.

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Famished. Was that too strong a word? It was early afternoon when Trout retreated with his lunch bag to die picnic table behind die building for his daily ritual: Open die bag. Pull out the tomato, the knife and the four slices of whole-grain bread. Eat the two tomato sandwiches and two pieces of fruit, drink die glass of tap water, read die work journal. Stay skinny, get smarter, return to business 20 minutes later.

Birthdays broke his routine. On those days, the drug tester being feted would bring a cake to share at morning tea as colleagues sang Happy Birthday, and then he or she would be taken out to lunch. A particularly moist cake would provoke an outbreak of drug-tester humor, a series of requests for a B sample. Trout's birthday, until recently, had remained his secret, passing as he wished it to: unsung.

The sun was setting outside the lab windows. Trout's eyes roved from test tubes to clock, gauging work flow, as he murmured encouragement here, urgency there. He could not drop his guard.

At any moment mystery markers could appear on the reams of printouts he kept poring over. That would flush him into the lab library in search of molecular formulas that matched this mystery guest, then to the phones and the E-mail network to see if drug cops elsewhere could put a name to a perplexing fingerprint. Hours of crunch time might evaporate if Trout couldn't I.D. a compound from a weed-killer or a new cleansing product in an athlete's urine, but it wouldn't matter to him if darkness had fallen and he should have departed the Piss-house long ago.

After all, more than an Olympic medal could be at stake. Only two years ago, a urine sample being tested for hCG had signaled the presence of a testicular tumor in Australian field hockey player Greg Corbitt. Trout's report was what brought doctors' attention to it, and it saved Corbitt's life.

It's nearly midnight. Somewhere in the Village lies a young man in a strange bed, waiting for morning to learn if he has outwitted the drug tester. He does not know the nature of die man driving home in weary silence. A man with no flag to wave, no dream to chase, no salvation to achieve, no gold to crave. A man more stimulated by process than principle, detached yet absolutely dedicated. The scariest of foes.

The young man cannot hear Trout unlock his door and kiss his 38-year-old Ugandan wife, Masooma. She's the former drug tester on his staff whose family fled Idi Amin's regime and whom he married eight years ago, when he was 48, to the shock of colleagues who never even knew they were dating. The young man cannot see Trout smiling over the crib of his dozing one-year-old boy, Lachlan—another shock for coworkers, who were never told, until it was about to occur, that Trout, at 55, was becoming a dad.

One can never presume to know the secret life of a man, either Olympian or drug tester. That hum, back in the lab, is the sound of an athlete's urine being injected into a machine and separated into all its parts. Then Trout's urine. May the best man win.

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