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TURNED IN CIRCLES : Suspended Hammer Thrower Green Faces a Maze in Appealing Drug Test

October 11, 1988|JULIE CART | Times Staff Writer

In the days after Ben Johnson was stripped of his Olympic gold medal at 100 meters and suspended from track and field for 2 years, the Canadian sprinter's advisers weighed his options.

When talk of an appeal was raised, few of amateur sport's observers were surprised.

But some were amused.

American hammer thrower Bill Green of San Jose and his attorneys were not laughing at Ben Johnson, they were laughing at the maze-like appeals system that exists for the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF). They knew what Johnson had in store if he chose to appeal.

On Aug. 10, 1987, Bill Green, a 1984 Olympian, won the silver medal in the hammer throw at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis. Afterward, as were all medalists, Green was tested for drugs.

On Aug. 12, his A sample tested positive for excessive testosterone, a natural hormone.

On Aug. 15, his B test was also declared positive.

Green was stripped of his medal--symbolically, as it turns out, since he still has it hanging from his dresser. His name, however, was stricken from the Pan American record books and he was suspended from international competition by the IAAF.

Or was he?

More than 14 months later, Green still cannot say what the length of his suspension is, nor, for that matter, if he was ever really suspended. In any event, he is appealing, although he says he does not know the status of his appeal.

The first thing to establish about Bill Green's story is that, despite all his protests of innocence, he did test positive for more testosterone in his body than the IAAF allows. Although it is a naturally produced hormone--it stimulates gains in strength and speed--excessive levels of it can indicate artificially induced production of it or the supplementary use of it.

Green's attorneys chose the most difficult road in their appeal. Most appeals challenge a small detail, rather than the entire testing system. Green's attorneys, however, charge that the entire testosterone test is invalid. And, as is the case in all good mysteries, there is more to be considered.

Green's appeal is based on his use of another drug, probenecid. Probenecid is commonly prescribed for gout and some venereal diseases. It is often used in conjunction with penicillin because it inhibits the secretion of the antibiotic. In other words, probenecid helps the body retain the penicillin longer.

Some athletes, however, know of another use for probenecid. Just as it blocks the secretion of penicillin into the urine, so does it block the secretion of anabolic steroids. It has been a very effective masking agent.

Green freely admits to having used probenecid, pointing out that at the time it was not banned for use by athletes. It since has been put on the list of banned drugs by many sports federations, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Green won't say exactly why he took probenecid. "What I will say is this," he said. "I have a personal illness for which I have to contain penicillin in my body."

His use of probenecid, however, turned up a flaw in the testing system, according to Green's attorneys and expert witnesses.

Here is their argument:

The lab report on Green's sample not only showed high levels of testosterone, it also indicated the presence of probenecid.

According to Mitch Mitchelson, one of Green's attorneys, however, the report said something more.

"The notation on the report is that probenecid is present and, as a result, certain tests that are normally run couldn't be run," Mitchelson said. "Because probenecid affects drug tests for steroids. It affects tests for all steroids.

"The chemical structure of testosterone is similar in many ways to the structure of these synthetic steroids, and so it behaves chemically similar to these anabolic steroids. This is what the doctors didn't consider when they ran the tests."

The result of a test for testosterone is delivered in a ratio. The mere presence of a narcotic is considered doping because it is not naturally found in the body. Testosterone, however, is always going to show up, so officials have to measure it in relative amounts. It is compared to the level of epitestosterone, another natural hormone found with testosterone in a common ratio.

For example, the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone may normally be 3 to 1. If officials found a ratio of 9 to 1, it would be reasonable to conclude that the athlete took additional testosterone.

That's where the probenecid comes in, Green's representatives say.

Since probenecid keeps certain substances in the body, while allowing others to pass through, probenecid prevented the epitestosterone from passing into Green's urine, but allowed the testosterone to pass, they say.

So, because probenecid screened the epitestosterone, Green's tests would show a higher--but incorrect--ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone.

Once they discovered this possibility, Green's attorneys believed they had their case.

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