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Looking Out for No. 1
Franz Lidz
December 22, 2003
Those frontline soldiers in the war on steriod abuse—the pee collectors—are finally making a splash
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December 22, 2003

Looking Out For No. 1

Those frontline soldiers in the war on steriod abuse—the pee collectors—are finally making a splash

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To pee or not to pee?

That is the question hundreds of drug cheats have faced when confronted by John Johnston and his plastic beakers. The 68-year-old New Jersey pensioner is a drugtesting crew chief, which is a euphemism for doping control officer, which itself is a euphemism for....

"Pee collector," he says helpfully. "Really, all I do is collect athletes' pee."

A champion collegiate wrestler who coached at Princeton from 1964 to '93, Johnston is part of a nationwide Stream Team that volunteers for the National Center for Drug Free Sport, the NCAA's collection agency. As much as he sloughs off his importance, Johnston, and the hundreds of pee collectors working for the IOC, NBA, NFL and other governing bodies, might have the most powerful job in sports. When a PC says whiz, you whiz or (in most cases) face suspension.

These men and women are at the front lines of the fight against the steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG)-PCs got the goods on the four Raiders who last month tested positive for the drug. Likewise, PCs bagged the 5% to 7% of major league ballplayers who flunked tests for steroids. When sprinter Kelli White got stripped of the gold medal she won at this year's World Track and Field Championships (she tested positive for the stimulant modanifil), a PC was responsible. The trusty pee collector, it seems, is single-handedly keeping sports from going down the toilet.

"Athletes are afraid to look at me," says physician Bob Goldman, an International Federation of BodyBuilders official who collects samples at competitions. "It's like I'm Darth Vader."

Once a PC shows an athlete his I.D. badge, the athlete must strip from his nips to his knees. Then Johnston has the jock fill a beaker and transfer the contents into two bottles with tamper-proof caps-samples A and B. After attaching a bar-coded label, the bottles are placed in a plastic bag, which is placed in a box, which is placed in another box, which is sealed and taken to a lab for analysis.

The NCAA, which visits each Division I school at least once a year, tests for steroids, masking agents and the stimulant ephedrine and for even more banned substances at championships. Among college athletes the failure rate is slightly less than 2% of about 10,500 tests each year. "It's a pain," says University of Miami forward Darius Rice. "They call you late at night, and you have to get up at six o'clock and do it. The little guy sits there watching you butt naked."

Some athletes can't answer the bell. "A shy bladder" is PC-speak for performance anxiety. Johnston has waited up to 10 hours for a satisfactory sample. Happily, he's a man of infinite patience. "Everybody's gotta go sometime," he says.

When the athlete finally relieves himself, Johnston watches for peculiar behavior. Evasive actions include relying on catheters and hidden bags of "clean" urine.

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