He has been
labeled the evil chemist behind sports' steroid era. Federal investigators call
him one of the "[drug] profiteers who endanger our citizens." A U.S.
Anti-Doping Agency official hailed his guilty plea on distribution charges in
April as a step toward "breaking the hold that steroids have on sport."
Since he was outed as the creator of THG, the designer steroid reportedly used
by Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and other stars, 40-year-old Patrick Arnold has
been portrayed as the linchpin in the BALCO scandal, his Champaign, Ill., lab a
modern Frankenstein's castle.
But sitting with
Arnold in a restaurant on the ground floor of the brick apartment building in
Champaign where he lives, it is hard to believe the man sipping Chardonnay with
his ahi tuna is Dr. Evil. He is wearing a dark button-up shirt with his drug
company's logo on the pocket, and it drapes untucked over the kind of
intentionally weathered cargo pants one finds at Old Navy. His chest, shoulders
and arms are massive, evidence of years of using the products--including
steroids--that he developed.
As he starts to
tell the story of his life, his career and--for the first time publicly--his
involvement with BALCO, something else becomes apparent: Patrick Arnold is,
first and foremost, a big nerd.
Ask him about a
particular performance enhancer, and his eyes light up as he launches into
geek-speak that could run through dessert. "Whereas androstenedione
requires reduction to the 17 beta alcohol, this product requires reduction to
mixed isometric alcohols at three--I'm sorry," he says, interrupting his
discourse. "All of that probably doesn't mean anything to you."
But it does to the
$13 billion supplement industry, in which Arnold remains an influential player
even though he is scheduled to enter federal prison in Morgantown, W.Va., on
Nov. 1 to begin a three-month sentence for his role in the BALCO case. BALCO
founder and president Victor Conte, who supplied Arnold's drugs to athletes,
has served his four-month jail term and faded from the limelight, but Arnold is
already looking forward to a flourishing career after prison. Sales of his
latest supplement, 6-OXO, which is legal and enhances natural testosterone
production, are increasing. Muscular young men still walk into the health food
store in Champaign and ask for "anything by Patrick Arnold." And on the
same Internet message boards on which he met Conte and they debated supplements
and developed a scientific comradeship, Arnold's posts are still treated as
word from on high.
At one time Arnold
loved to talk publicly about the science of performance enhancers. But since
the BALCO scandal broke in 2003 and he was revealed as the inventor of THG, he
has been silent. It took six months of negotiating through an intermediary
before he agreed to be interviewed by SI. To be sure, Arnold is wary. He knows
how he has been portrayed in the stories written about him without his
cooperation. "I walked out of a restaurant recently, and a waitress said to
my friend, 'You know, that guy, he's a coke dealer,'" Arnold says.
"People think the worst of me without really knowing what I've
What Arnold has
done is bring the sports world two of its most famous performance enhancers:
THG and androstenedione. He didn't invent andro; East Germans were giving it to
their athletes more than two decades before Mark McGwire made it famous when a
bottle of it was spotted in his locker in the middle of a 70-home-run season.
But Arnold rediscovered andro and brought it to the marketplace as an
ingredient in supplements. He created THG (tetrahydragestrinone), a.k.a the
Clear, an undetectable derivative of the banned steroid gestrinone, by altering
the latter's molecular structure. He also synthesized--and tried to determine
safe ways to use--norbolethone, an existing steroid that had never been
marketed, and desoxymethyltestosterone (DMT), a steroid derived from
dehydroepiandrosterone, one of the body's natural hormones. Arnold supplied
norbolethone and DMT to Conte along with THG, knowing that Conte would pass
them on to elite athletes. He also sold norbolethone and THG directly to track
and field coaches and to other athletes.
His creations have
landed him in prison but have also made him a legend in the realm where
steroids and sports intersect--where the term drug cheat is not pejorative.
"There are people out there wondering what I will come up with next,"
Arnold says. "And I have some ideas. I don't want BALCO to be my
into the world of performance enhancers started at age 11, when his grandfather
gave him a set of weights. Patrick, a skinny kid growing up in Guilford, Conn.,
would spend hours each week lifting in his garage and later in gyms. "I
loved it when kids would pick a fight with me and not know how strong I
was," he says.
fascinated with vitamins and consumed by what he put into his body. During the
late 1970s an obsession over his protein intake led him to mix milk and egg
protein powder with honey and peanut butter. He kneaded the mess together and
shaped it into long, narrow "peanut rolls" that he would freeze.
Whenever he wanted instant protein, he'd cut off a slice. Arnold ate and lifted
like a bodybuilder but grew frustrated with his inability to put on much muscle
mass. He wanted people to see how strong he was. In that way he was very much
like the people who would one day buy his products.