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Doctor and Cyclist Defend Practice of Blood Doping

January 12, 1985|KENNETH REICH | Times Staff Writer

The physician reported to have given blood doping transfusions last summer to a third of the 24-member U.S. Olympic cycling team--including five medal winners--said Friday he had done nothing "illegal or unethical or detrimental to any athlete."

Dr. Herman Falsetti, a University of Iowa heart specialist who also has a home in Laguna Beach and is licensed to practice in California, said: "I know of no Olympic rules that would prohibit (blood doping). It's commonly used in Europe and I know of no rules in this country against the practice."

Falsetti said he would not discuss what he had done regarding any specific athlete because it would be a breach of confidentiality, but, he added: "I would never transfuse anyone who hadn't been carefully typed and cross-matched with the best possible donor. . . . The risk is virtually nonexistent."

Also defending blood doping Friday was one of the athletes involved, Olympic silver medalist Brent Emery, who readily conceded on NBC's "Today" show that he had received a transfusion. Other American medal winners who reportedly had transfusions are gold medalist Steve Hegg, silver medalists Rebecca Twigg and Pat McDonough, and bronze medalist Leonard (Harvey) Nitz.

"Cycling preparation is very, very involved on a lot of levels," Emery said. "We do weight training, we do stretching, we do preparation with our diet. We're taking a look at our whole program in order to prepare ourselves as best as possible. And we have not done anything illegal. It was a decision which had to be made according to how you approached the sport. Years ago, amateur athletes were receiving sponsorship money, and there were people who thought it was the worst sin possible. Nevertheless, it's not illegal."

Asked why the transfusions had been kept secret, Emery replied: "Well, how many athletes do you have going around telling how much money they make through sponsorship?"

Despite Falsetti's and Emery's emphasis on the propriety of blood doping, officials from the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee emphasized Friday that they condemn it and that it is contrary to Olympic policy.

The head of the IOC Medical Commission, Prince Alexandre de Merode of Belgium, sent a cable to F. Don Miller, the executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, declaring, in part:

"Since 1976, by means of official declarations and in its medical guide, the IOC Medical Commission has formally condemned the practice of blood transfusions on athletes in good health. . . . (Transfusions are) contrary to sports ethics and can be dangerous."

De Merode indicated that the only reason the IOC had not banned the practice was that there is no medical test that can detect it after it has occurred.

To this, Falsetti responded: "They (the IOC) have a list three pages long (of prohibited practices) and blood packing is not on there. If we Americans said we thought it was illegal and unethical, the Europeans wouldn't go along. That's why there is no rule. I'd be happy to see a rule."

Miller said that in November, 1983, he had specifically told the U.S. Cycling Federation, in answer to its request that the USOC take a stand, not to engage in blood doping.

Despite Miller's statement, however, several of those involved with the cycling team said Friday that the USOC had never clearly objected to the blood doping done in Los Angeles.

Jim McFadden, public relations director for the U.S. Cycling Federation during the Olympics, said he had conferred with the team coach, Eddy Borysewicz, and was authorized to say that Borysewicz had been told in advance by Dr. Kenneth Clarke, the director of the USOC's sports medicine division, that blood doping was not illegal.

McFadden added that another team official who had checked beforehand with USOC officials was told that while they did not condone the practice, it was an internal matter for each national sports federation.

"In the whole USOC buildup against drugs after the blowup at the Caracas Pan American Games (in 1983), there was not one notice against blood boosting," McFadden said. "And there was a ton of stuff on steroids. Being aware that these transfusions were commonly done, they should have said something about it then. This seems like kind of after-the-fact posturing."

Falsetti said: "I'm shocked that anybody that had an objection did not raise it at the Olympics. . . . The story is not really blood packing, but a conflict between administrative, bureaucratic officials.

"They're destroying bicycling. They're tainting the medals. It's just outrageous."

The USOC's Miller, however, insisted that after he had given a flat no to the practice in November, 1983, he had heard nothing more about the matter until November, 1984, three months after the Olympics. As soon as he heard that the blood doping had occurred, he ordered an investigation, Miller said.

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