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Is This Dr. Evil?
George Dohrmann
October 09, 2006
A legend in the sports netherworld, chemist Patrick Arnold--inventor of THG--breaks his silence on his role in the BALCO scandal and hints of a future filled with scary science
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October 09, 2006

Is This Dr. Evil?

A legend in the sports netherworld, chemist Patrick Arnold--inventor of THG--breaks his silence on his role in the BALCO scandal and hints of a future filled with scary science

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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 done."

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 legacy."

Arnold's journey 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.

He became 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.

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