A REVEALING INQUIRY
He spoke loftily of a "brotherhood of the needle," but what Dr. Jamie Astaphan seemed to be describing in Toronto last week was an underworld crawling with self-interested, distrustful and unethical people. Testifying before Canada's Commission of Inquiry into the Use of Drugs and Banned Practices Intended to Increase Athletic Performance, Astaphan, 43, a native of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, was a defensive, often testy witness. He seemed less troubled by the fact that he had administered steroids to sprinter Ben Johnson than by the suggestion that he might have made the miscalculation that resulted in Johnson's testing positive for the steroid stanozolol at the Seoul Olympics and having to forfeit his 100-meters gold medal.
Astaphan's appearance also had grave implications for Johnson, who is expected to begin testifying on June 12. Johnson has maintained all along that he never "knowingly" took steroids. But that defense appeared to weaken when, in one of the inquiry's most dramatic moments. Astaphan produced a scratchy tape of a phone conversation he said he had with Johnson in January 1988. The tape, which Astaphan made without Johnson's knowledge, makes it clear that Johnson was a witting participant in the steroid program Astaphan had designed for him. During the conversation, Astaphan asked Johnson, "You haven't used any of the white stuff, the steroid, since December, have you?"
Johnson replied, "Part of it, yeah." Astaphan said that he made the tape—on which he also recorded conversations with Charlie Francis, Johnson's coach; Canadian sprinter Angella Issajenko; and sprinter Pierfrancesco Pavoni of Italy—to protect himself. Said Astaphan, "I wanted to make sure that they understood and admitted that they were taking anabolic steroids so that, excuse my expression, when the——hit the fan, my tail would be covered too."
Rather than express any remorse for what he had done to—and for—the athletes, Astaphan, a general practitioner, took obvious pride in his abilities. Indeed, he bragged that he knew of seven substances that mask steroid use, including one, carinamide, that he called "the golden boy of them all." Listening to Astaphan's smirking boasts of pharmacological wizardry last week, one had to wonder how he could have been caught just when the stakes were highest. A few interesting possibilities came to light.
Astaphan testified that in June 1985 an East German athlete (whose name he would not reveal) came to him to make a trade: Astaphan gave the athlete 144 bottles of an inosine/B mixture, in exchange for 48 bottles of furazobol, a steroid which the East Germans had found to be very successful. To keep the identity of this steroid from what the East German referred to as "the damn Americans," Astaphan and the athlete agreed that the drug should be called by the phony name of "estragol." Astaphan said that when he discussed the drug with Francis and his athletes, he told them that it was furazobol, but that they should always refer to it as estragol.
Late last August, when Johnson and his teammates returned from Europe. Astaphan decided to put some of them on a "quick program" of drugs that included estragol. Astaphan testified that he gave Johnson an injection containing estragol on Aug. 28, 27 days before the Olympic 100-meter final.
Last November, in the wake of Johnson's positive test, Issajenko surrendered to the inquiry 12 bottles of the milky white substance that she believed was estragol or furazobol. Yet when the substance was analyzed, it turned out to be Winstrol-V, a veterinary steroid that has the same properties as stanozolol, the steroid detected in Johnson.
There are two ways to explain this discrepancy. First, there's the possibility that the East German athlete bilked Astaphan, and that Astaphan gave Johnson and the other sprinters stanozolol under the belief that he was giving them furazobol. The second possibility is that Astaphan, for reasons that can only be guessed at, knowingly administered stanozolol.
The latter suspicion gains credence when considered in the light of the inquiry's Exhibit Number 153, a series of order forms from Winthrop Laboratories in Aurora, Ont. The order forms show that between November '85 and December '87, Astaphan ordered 81 30-milliliter vials of injectable Winstrol-V.