The phrase blood doping, or more properly, boosting or packing, had a familiar ring to some of Lea's associates. "We've been looking into this stuff for years and years and years," says Fraysse, now the acting USCF president. "We weren't gonna fall behind the Russians or East Germans any more." In the effort to keep up, Fraysse, Borysewicz and team technical director Ed Burke began discussing in late 1983 whether the team, or the federation, might conduct a research project to determine the benefits of boosting. Burke wrote to USCF executive director Dave Prouty, who wrote back that boosting was probably a bad idea, but that the USOC should be approached.
Burke did write to USOC medical director Kenneth (Casey) Clarke, and on Dec. 28, 1983, Clarke replied in a letter to the USOC's Miller. "[Boosting] is fairly widely practiced in Europe, especially among cyclists and Nordic skiiers," he wrote in part, noting that for medical reasons "...the use of someone else's blood is now clearly verboten." Of boosting with an athlete's own blood cells, Clarke concluded, "From a medical point of view, it can now be considered ethical. However, no organization, the IOC especially, has ever clarified the ethical value of IE [induced erythrocythemia, or the introduction of a surplus of red blood cells] in sport." He promised he'd check on the question of starting a research project.
Last January, Miller said there would be no such project. Despite this, cycling's blood-boosting advocates were not deterred. The USOC wasn't being firm, they reasoned, and with some justification. "I was getting information that we don't want to touch this thing with a 10-foot pole because it was controversial," says Burke. "But there wasn't any more written stuff."
The coaches had a loophole. Boosting was against USOC medical policy, but it wasn't against the rules. The IOC's doping policy bans "any physiological substance taken in abnormal quantity or taken by an abnormal route of entry into the body, with the sole intention of increasing in an artificial and unfair manner performance in competition...." That seems a clear enough condemnation of blood boosting, but the IOC had never seen fit to outlaw it specifically. And indeed there is no reliable test at present for detecting infused blood cells. "There was a policy vacuum," says Les Earnest, a board member of the USCF, "and these guys moved into it and filled it in a stupid way."
Says Burke: "We discussed this question back and forth. Then riders came to us for information. We presented the pros and we presented the cons. And we told them, 'If you don't believe us, go out and talk to someone else.' I said, 'If you want to go through with something like this, it's your decision.' " The coaches never personally counseled the athletes on the ethics of blood boosting beyond telling them it was "legal."
Van Haute rode well at the trials in July, as well as he ever had. He was the only rider to boost for them, and suddenly a new interest in the process was kindled. It looked as though there was going to be boosting in L.A., so, "I had a moral obligation to myself and to [the riders]," says Burke, "to get them somebody to help them."
"They knew I wouldn't do it," says Dr. Thomas B. Dickson Jr. of Allentown, Pa., the bike team's unofficial doctor. "I had a run-in the year before with the coaches. It wasn't blood or anything, it wasn't anything dangerous. But I said, 'Look, y'know, knock it off. Put the syringes back in your pockets. Because if the press gets ahold of this, number one, you're gonna see 7-Eleven [a major sponsor of riders and builder of the Olympic velodrome] as a small speck on the horizon.' "
With Dickson certain to be uncooperative, Burke turned to Falsetti, an associate from his days as a physiologist at the University of Iowa. Falsetti is, as even Dickson says, "a physician with tremendous qualifications." He will not discuss the particulars of the transfusions he oversaw in a room at the Carson, Calif. Ramada Inn three to five days before the events of riders who accepted blood boosting. "When I talk to a rider I tell him, first, I never do anything that is risky, unethical or illegal," said Falsetti last week. "And, second, I will never tell anybody about this."
There were only two doctors with the bike team in L.A., and the other, Dickson, felt the transfusions were both risky and unethical. The three weeks between the trials and the Games didn't allow enough time to use the safer reinfusion procedure Van Haute had employed—in which one to two pints of blood are extracted, to be replenished naturally, the red blood cells spun out and, several weeks later, reinfused into the body—so Falsetti had to use simple transfusions from donors. "It can be equally effective," says Falsetti. "I think the chances are best with your own blood, slightly riskier with someone else's. But if it's a relative, that's as close as you can get."
Dickson says, "Getting blood from somebody else without good reason—that's bad, by definition. I had two riders who got sick out there after they'd been transfused. I actively discouraged riders from doing it at the time." At one point, claims Dickson, he noticed sprinter and eventual silver medalist Nelson Vails in line for a transfusion. "I said, 'Look, you don't have to take it, you're only going 200 yards.' And he said, 'You mean, I don't have to?' And I said, 'No, it's gonna do you no good at all.' Well, he was happy. He popped out, and away he went."