Somewhere in the Village this morning lies a young man on a strange bed, trying to quiet his heartbeat. Today is his turn. He's thinking—how can he not?—of the choice he made, the outlandish wager: that he, on this one day, will exit the gates of Sydney's Olympic Village, step before the world and do one thing better than any other man on earth...honestly. Knowing that four years of obsession, pain and tedium may have been for nothing, a monstrous joke. Knowing that his rivals may have taken injections or pills that will give him no chance today, even if his talent and sacrifice both were greater than theirs. That his only hope is nine miles from the arena: a bald and bony man he has never met, and never will.
Trout's Eyelids fluttered open. His dream had already vanished; he could never wake up and catch hold of one. But, then, he never really tried. Facts were too important to him, and the fact was this: Today the 2000 Summer Olympics would begin. Today the whole proposition—the trumpets, the doves, the idealism upon which hundreds of millions of dollars hinged...hinged on him. Graham Trout. A man who, if you didn't count a few schoolboy matches nearly 40 years ago, had never been to a major sporting event. The right corner of his lips lifted, just barely, for his sense of irony was keen. That, for Trout, was a guffaw.
Then he was in motion, pulling on the pale blue shirt that his shoulders didn't quite fill, the pale gray vest and gray trousers, tucking the eyeglasses and pen into his left shirt pocket. Eating the carefully combined portions of bran, muesli and milk, and hurrying out the door of his modest North Sydney apartment.
His mind hummed with details during the five-minute drive to work. O.K., it was true, the integrity of the Summer Games, the hopes of that young man lying in bed in the Village, didn't hang entirely on Trout. Two other scientists, besides him, would be in charge of the most intensive undertaking in the history of analytical chemistry, compressing tests with a usual two-week turnaround to 24 hours, scrutinizing thousands of urine samples and, for the first time at the Summer Olympics, hundreds of blood samples. They'd be supervising a staff of 75 scientists—more than 50 brought on board temporarily and trained for two months just for this task—and $3.3 million worth of equipment that could sniff out a banned substance at a concentration as infinitesimal as half a nanogram (.0000000005 of a gram) per milliliter.
Suddenly, with one flicker in a window on a computer screen, Trout could become the most important man on the world's largest stage. After all, it was his research team that had done half the work developing the groundbreaking EPO blood test, the specter of which may have contributed to China's abrupt decision last week to drop 27 athletes from its Olympic team. And wasn't the most momentous event of the 1988 Seoul Olympics wrought not on a track or a field or a court but in a drug lab by a Korean chemist bent over a vial of Ben Johnson's urine?
The Sydney Games were opening under a far darker sky than Seoul's, one black nimbus drug headline after another rolling in during the two years leading into the Olympics. A study financed by the White House office of national drug policy reported last week that some Olympic coaches and athletes estimate up to 90% of participants in their sports use performance-enhancing drugs. The study also cited allegations that the International Olympic Committee stymied research on drug testing, and it called for control of drug enforcement to be turned over to an independent agency. Two doctors who served on the U.S. Olympic Committee in the 1980s and '90s—Robert Voy and Wade Exum—have claimed that the committee systematically covered up drug use, allegations that the USOC categorically denies. Still, "doping could destroy the Olympic movement," Frank Marshall of the USOC's drug task force declared last year. "This is the most important issue facing the Olympic movement today."
Even if there's a gold-medal bust in Sydney, no one would be able to pick the 56-year-old Trout from a lineup of encyclopedia salesmen a week later. No one would slap him on the back or raise a glass to toast him—not if the past was any indicator. Not one of the thousands of athletes who desperately wanted to compete cleanly had ever thanked him.
That was how he liked it. Trout was an odd fish. He turned his white Subaru Forester onto a short road and drove to the parking lot at the dead end. The Australian Government Analytical Laboratories building was as hidden, behind its thicket of eucalyptus trees, and as nondescript, with its dirty yellow facade, as Trout's unflickering face. Oh, yes, the U.S., British and Japanese TV crews would eventually find AGAL if Trout's crew nailed a big-timer, just as the Aussie cameramen had when the lab fingered that Indian weightlifter on steroids in the 1990 Commonwealth Games. But they would burn a couple of hours scratching their heads over street maps, and they'd never get past the armed guards at AGAL's door, and as the cameramen climbed onto the roof of the office building on AGAL's right flank—they wouldn't dare try the ammunition depot of the Royal Australian Infantry on AGAL's left—and set up their phalanx of long lenses, the drug testers would simply pull down their window blinds and calibrate on. "We'll talk to no one during the Games," vowed Ray Kazlauskas, the Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory director and Trout's boss. That would be as easy as mince pie for Trout. He often passed a quarter hour on a telephone call to his mother without murmuring a dozen words.
Trout entered the building, wondering when he'd ever exit it. In one breath his boss had promised not to grind the lab staff to dust, not to create the crypt of white-coated zombies that Kazlauskas had witnessed in the Atlanta lab at the close of the '96 Olympics. In the next breath, when discussing whether Trout or co-lieutenant Allen Stenhouse would direct the day shift or night shift, Kazlauskas had admitted, "Day shift, night shift, it'll all just blur."
Trout had resigned himself to a tunnel of 12-and 13-hour days—work, eat, sleep, eat, work—knowing from previous major competitions that adrenaline would be the natural drug that dragged him through the first dozen days. Then it would dry up, and the last three days would be a mumbling, stumbling hell, the marathon that no one ever reported run by the team that no one ever invited to enter the stadium on opening or closing day.