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THE NATION

Bonds Gives Testimony in Athletes' Steroid Case

December 05, 2003|David Wharton, Alan Abrahamson and Steve Springer | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — In a courthouse spectacle that caused reporters to camp on the sidewalk and fans to yell from passing cars, San Francisco Giant slugger Barry Bonds testified Thursday before a federal grand jury seeking information about steroid use by athletes.

Bonds, considered by many to be the best player of his generation, was compelled to appear as part of a months-long investigation that has enmeshed some of the biggest names in sports.

After spending 5 1/2 hours inside the grand jury room, the baseball superstar emerged at 4:25 p.m. and offered only brief comments.

Asked how it went, he said: "Fine." Asked whether he was glad it was over, he said: "Yes."

While Bonds' appearance was big news, it was not the only development in what some experts characterized as a significant week in the effort to fight the use of banned substances.

Earlier Thursday, the International Olympic Committee authorized the retesting of samples collected during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and widened the scope of testing at next summer's Athens Games.

The day before, American track and field officials had voted to recommend a lifetime ban for athletes caught using steroids.

Taken together, these developments prompted experts to suggest that the anti-doping effort, which for many years has proceeded in fits and starts, had gained crucial momentum.

"This isn't about any one individual on any particular day," said Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic marathon gold medalist and long-time anti-doping activist. "A lot is happening and I think there has been a paradigm shift.... The clean athlete has been empowered."

Bonds' testimony, while yielding no new public information about the grand jury's probe, contributed symbolic value, another expert said.

If such a superstar could be subpoenaed -- if only as a witness -- all athletes should be wary, said Steven Ungerleider, whose book, "Faust's Gold," chronicled the state-sponsored doping of East German athletes a generation ago.

"Not that it's going to clean up sports," he said of the grand jury investigation. "But it sends a powerful message."

This change was set in motion in September when law enforcement authorities raided a company called Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, in Burlingame, Calif.

The grand jury is investigating whether BALCO, which makes nutritional supplements, also was distributing steroids and other banned drugs that athletes use to become stronger and faster.

Specifically, the grand jury is trying to determine whether BALCO was the source of a new type of "designer steroid" -- called tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG -- that appears to have been created for the purpose of helping cheaters avoid detection.

BALCO owner Victor Conte has denied any wrongdoing.

Over the last month, some of BALCO's best-known clients have been subpoenaed as witnesses to talk about what they purchased from the company. Some have reportedly been granted limited immunity in return for their testimony.

Olympic medalists Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery have appeared. So have numerous National Football League players. Bonds, however, was the most anticipated witness in the probe.

Television news trucks set up outside the courthouse Wednesday night. By early Thursday, about 30 reporters and photographers held vigil at the court entrance, the driveway to an underground parking garage and the foyer on the 17th floor where the grand jury meets.

As the news media waited, a truck driver going past on the street yelled: "Barry didn't do it!"

When a black Mercedes pulled to the curb, reporters scrambled into position, only to have a woman exit the car. "Did you guys figure out I'm nobody yet?" she asked.

A courthouse official had said Bonds would receive no special treatment, but shortly before 11 a.m., he was allowed to pull into underground parking that had been closed to other witnesses under subpoena.

Bonds, a six-time National League most valuable player who set the single-season home-run record with 73 in 2001, arrived on the 17th floor smiling and wearing dark slacks and a gray jacket. Accompanied by a bodyguard and his attorney, Michael Rains, Bonds ignored requests for comment.

His teammate, Benito Santiago, subsequently entered the jury room to testify. Bonds' mother and wife arrived and waited in the hallway.

The famed left fielder had come under particular scrutiny because he was a loyal BALCO client before the raids and because Greg Anderson -- a personal trainer for Bonds and other athletes -- is a target of the investigation.

Bonds has denied using steroids. Last month, Rains said Bonds would tell the grand jury that he grew more muscular late in his career through training and nutritional supplements.

On another front, on Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC authorized that Olympic samples be retested for THG, a substance that was unknown to authorities until this year.

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