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OLYMPICS

Doping at the L.A. Games? Ignorance was bliss

Steroid use by athletes was already widespread in 1984 and the Olympics here were no exception, but the public hadn't noticed yet.

August 04, 2009|David Wharton

"It was just terrible news," the hurdler said. "It wasn't totally unexpected, but it was groundbreaking in that, for the first time, a major competitor had been busted at the Olympic Games."

Sports were entering a dark period. In the years that followed, other big stars including U.S. sprinter Marion Jones would be caught. The steroid era extended well beyond the Olympics.

It crippled the Tour de France. In professional baseball, it landed stars such as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa before a congressional committee and home run king Barry Bonds in a federal courtroom.

Athletes could sense that fans watched the ensuing Games differently.

"The innocence had gone away," said Mitchell, the longtime diving coach at the University of Arizona. "There had been many a story of Olympic athletes gone bad. People weren't as starry-eyed."

Skepticism has been particularly strong in sports that emphasize numbers.

"There is something about establishing a record, something in the record books," Ungerleider said. "We all look with a more suspicious eye."

Yet, for the first time in a long time, anti-doping experts are guardedly optimistic.

They hope that with each prominent athlete who gets caught -- including the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez -- the deterrence factor rises. At the same time, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency have established tougher protocols as the science of testing catches up to cheaters.

"Athletes who want to get around the rules have to go to extreme measures," said Moses, who has devoted himself to the cause of doping control.

Which raises a question: Can the Olympics recapture any of that lost innocence?

Mitchell doubts the public will ever fully trust athletes again. Ungerleider, though encouraged by progress in testing, concedes that doping control has a long way to go.

There is a certain wistfulness in his voice when he recalls the atmosphere at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, fans talking sports instead of pharmacology.

"Those were the good old days," he says.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Bummer Olympics

Notable scandals that affected post-1984 Olympic Games:

1988 SUMMER OLYMPICS

* Canadian Ben Johnson stripped of 100 meters gold medal; tested positive for stanozolol.

2000 SUMMER OLYMPICS

* Romanian Andreea Raducan became first gymnast stripped of a medal (gold); tested positive for pseudoephedrine.

* Marion Jones agreed to forfeit three gold medals (100 meters, 200, 1,600 relay) and two bronze medals (400 relay, long jump) after admitting to taking performance-enhancing drugs.

2004 SUMMER OLYMPICS

* Ukraine stripped of women's quadruple sculls bronze medal after Olena Olefirenko tested positive for Ethamivan.

* Leonidas Sampanis stripped of bronze medal in 62-kilogram weightlifting; tested positive for excess testosterone.

* Russian Irina Korzhanenko stripped of gold in the women's shotput; tested positive for stanozolol.

* Hungarian Robert Fazekas was stripped of gold medal and Olympic record in the men's discus; failed to produce a sufficient urine sample, left test facility early.

* Adrian Annus stripped of gold medal in the hammer throw; caught tampering with test sample.

2008 SUMMER OLYMPICS

* North Korean Kim Jong Su stripped of silver medal in 50-meter pistol and bronze in 10-meter air pistol; tested positive for propranolol.

* Ukrainian Liudmyla Blonska stripped of heptathlon silver medal; tested positive for the anabolic steroid methyltestosterone.

Source: BBC Sport, Times research

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