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Doping Fight Is Now a Positive

Progress is seen as only two have had troubling test results at Pan Am Games, 20 years after the debacle in Venezuela.

August 13, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — In the first dozen days of the XIV Pan American Games, more than 7,000 athletes from 42 nations competing in 38 events have produced two positive test results, both for over-the-counter substances.

U.S. sprinter Mickey Grimes, gold medalist in the 100 meters, tested positive for the stimulant ephedrine, a banned substance, the Pan American Sports Organization announced Wednesday.

Earlier, Letitia Vriesde, Surinam's only athlete here, tested positive for excessive caffeine after winning the 800 meters and was stripped of her medal. She was said to have the equivalent of 5 gallons of coffee in her system, a PASO official said, and admitted her guilt.

Those revelations have barely caused a ripple on the shores of this island nation or anywhere else in the world. Compare that with 20 years ago, when the drug tests of the 1983 Pan Am Games in Caracas, Venezuela, produced a tsunami, generating waves of shock, humiliation and, ultimately, resolve to clean up an epidemic of performance-enhancing drug use, particularly steroids, among world-class athletes.

Thirty athletes tested positive, including 15 medalists, in the biggest drug bust in sports history.

And that might be only a modest number since many others avoided testing by leaving Caracas, faking injuries so that they wouldn't have to compete or purposely finishing out of the medals so that they could avoid testing.

"We've come a long way," said Steven Ungerleider, an Oregon research psychologist and consultant to the U.S. Olympic Committee. "Athletes know now we mean business. You'd better believe athletes know they are going to get tested as soon as competition starts. Or they may get tested outside of competition. Someone may knock on their door at 6 a.m. If you are going to compete, you have to play by the rules.

"So yeah, we have absolutely come a long, long way from Venezuela. With all the testing done [in the Dominican], thousand of samples, this is huge, huge progress."

Ungerleider said the nature of the drugs is also significantly different from those prevalent in Caracas.

"Both of these -- ephedrine and caffeine -- are in the stimulant family," he said. "But you can get caffeine in coffee. You can get ephedrine at any [convenience] store. When you put steroids in your body, you are making a pretty strong statement. You are saying, 'I have intent to dope. I have intent to cheat. I have intent to put performance-enhancing substances in my body.' There is no gray area there. With caffeine and ephedrine, there is some gray."

The amount of ephedrine detected in Grimes' test was 13.7 microliters. The allowable amount is 10.

If a second test, which Grimes is entitled to, is also positive today, he probably would be stripped of his medal, plus a second gold he won three days later in the 400-meter relay, and issued a warning by the International Assn. of Athletic Federations, which governs track and field. It is not expected that his participation in future events will be affected.

"I understand that athletes need to take responsibility for everything we put in our bodies," Grimes, who is from Colton, said in a statement. "I made a mistake and I know that my action carries with it a penalty. I sincerely regret letting down the U.S. delegation and my country, and I look forward to representing the United States in the future."

Although Grimes ran in the 100 a week ago, it wasn't until Sunday night that Roland Betts, head of the U.S. delegation, was informed of the test results. It was Monday morning before Betts located Grimes in Nice, France, and informed him of the positive reading.

"He seemed very surprised," Betts said. "He said the only thing he took was Vitamin C, but that wouldn't produce a positive."

USA Track and Field also issued a statement Wednesday, which read in part, "We have spoken to Mickey and we feel assured that he had no intention of gaining any competitive advantage. Mickey is one of our top young athletes, and he has learned an important and difficult lesson from his error."

There was no gray area before 1983, because there was virtually no honest testing, according to Robert Voy, then the chief medical officer for the USOC. Tests were referred to as "sink tests," because, without the means to properly do the job, he said, samples would simply be washed down the sink and negative results would be announced.

It might not have been much different in Caracas. Ten days before the Pan Am Games, the local organizing committee informed PASO it had neither the time nor the money to establish an effective drug-testing laboratory.

Enter German biochemist Manfred Donike.

With the use of a portable laboratory and technology that was ground-breaking for its time, Donike led a team of technicians from the Institute for Biochemistry at the German Sports University in Cologne to Caracas and pulled the covers off the rampant drug use on a world stage.

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