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The standard justification of physicians like Robert Kerr of San Gabriel, Calif., who boasts of having more than 10,000 "patients" currently on steroids, is that since the people will use them anyway, prescriptions are safer. The same rationalization, of course, could be used for the prescribing of LSD and heroin.
But even without coaches or willing doctors, athletes can get steroids. The biggest sources are, in fact, not physicians but black-market dealers who sell the drugs illegally. Dr. Wright estimates that between 70% and 80% of the steroids taken in the U.S. are used not to heal the sick—the job they were intended to perform—but to strengthen the strong, and that of that 70% to 80%, between 80% and 90% are bought by athletes on the black market. Recently a few dealers decided that depending only on word of mouth to sustain sales just wasn't good enough. So, in the best tradition of American get-up-and-go, they began sending flyers to gym owners and other potential customers around the country. The flyers include a full price list of the available substances and complete details about how to order.
The question is: Now that it seems clear that steroids enhance performance, damage health and are readily available, how can athletes' use of them be curtailed? Sports organizations must begin by testing, in an attempt to force athletes to go off the drugs before major competitions. Few sporting bodies other than the IOC are concerned enough to do this.
TAC, which oversees track and field in the U.S., hasn't been very supportive of proposals from the International Amateur Athletics Federation medical committee to require IOC-type drug testing at any meet at which a world record is set. Indeed, TAC has never tested for drugs, and the reasons for that aren't easy to get at. Ollan Cassell, the executive director of TAC, flatly refuses to discuss the matter. Speculation centers on the notion that some TAC people may feel that they don't want to subject U.S. athletes to the sorts of regular testing, or even spot-check testing, that have been used so widely in Western Europe. This line of reasoning holds that since the Soviet bloc nations are unlikely to subject their athletes to such scrutiny, why should the U.S.? One result of this position is that it allows drug use among American athletes to escalate unchecked—hurdler Edwin Moses was quoted in June as saying that at least half of the top U.S. Olympic track and field candidates are using drugs, the most popular being anabolic steroids. This policy also calls into question how much TAC cares whether competition at its meets is really fair, and how much it cares about the health of its athletes. To their credit, many of the women in TAC do support testing.
In bodybuilding, a sport that has always prided itself on its dedication to good health, the Mr. America Committee of the AAU voted in 1982 to conduct a pilot study by requiring each of the 1983 AAU contestants in the U.S.A. series to have a drug test. Unforeseen logistical and legal hangups prevented this from happening, but the International Federation of Bodybuilders will conduct limited experimental testing this year in Europe. However, although the reaction against the influence of steroids in bodybuilding has prompted the AAU and the IFBB to act and spawned several so-called "natural" physique organizations, really big-time bodybuilding is still test-free.
Though opposition to testing remains staunch among many of the top male bodybuilders, again there seems to be solid, though hardly universal, support for testing among the women competitors. Led by Doris Barrileaux, who serves as the IFBB women's committee chairperson, many of the women are urging the IFBB to begin to test immediately. "Bodybuilding is supposed to be healthy," Barrileaux says. "It's supposed to allow a woman to win without having to look like a man. I'd like to keep it that way."
And now we come at last to the sport I know best and am least objective about—powerlifting. Steroid use among athletes began at about the same time organized powerlifting did, and this sport's current efforts to deal with the issue of testing give particular insight into the difficulties involved.
Powerlifting lacks full affiliation with the IOC, and thus it has been free to establish its own rules. Until the U.S. Powerlifting Federation became independent, only last week, the sport had been part of the AAU, which for years has had an antidrug clause in its bylaws. But steroid testing wasn't a concern until the mid-'70s, when plans to test athletes at the Montreal Olympic Games were first discussed. At that time the use of drugs wasn't illegal in powerlifting, as no rules concerning them had ever been passed by the International Powerlifting Federation. But in 1977 it was decided that if powerlifting ever intended to join international federations such as the General Assembly of International Sports Federations or the IOC. it would be necessary to bring its rules more in line with those of the older and more prestigious organizations.
In 1978 legislation was passed by the IPF making the use of steroids illegal in powerlifting, but the rule was meaningless until 1982 because there was no provision for testing.
Although I retired as a competitor in powerlifting in 1967, in '71 my fascination with strength drew me back to the sport as a coach, a journalist and an official, and the first thing I noticed was the degree to which the level of drug use had soared. Beginning in '74 my interest increased, because my wife, Jan, decided to become a powerlifter, too.