Syringe full of doubt

What do you get when you mix a home-run king in Barry Bonds, a six-time Olympic gold-medalist swimmer in Amy Van Dyken, a couple of world record holders in Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, a boxing champion in Shane Mosley, and two all-star outfielders in Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield?
Is it a). a combined salary four times the amount of Ghana’s yearly budget b). Homo sapiens that are some of the best athletes or c). a group that spend more buying new tires for their vehicles than we make in a lifetime?
The correct answer is actually d). you get a cocktail of fiasco with equal parts cover-up and drug use with a dash of societal breakdown.
All the athletes mentioned, and many more, are involved, in some form, in the biggest drug scandal in sports history. And the circus is being played out on the 17th floor, in a fluorescently-lit testimony room, of the Phillip A. Burton Building in San Francisco.
The centre of the grand jury investigation is a man named Victor Conte, the founder and owner of The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALKO).
BALKO specialized in testing athletes for nutritional levels and then providing them supplements through a company called the Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning (SNAC), with their clientele roster boasting Barry Bonds and Marion Jones to name a few.
“I don’t just hang out with elite athletes, they pay me large sums of money to advise them,” Conte wrote once on an Internet message board.
In early June of last year, a call to the U.S Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), by a person describing himself as a “high-profile” track coach, was placed and provided a syringe with an unknown substance allegedly from the BALKO office.
That anonymous call has opened some very dirty closets—and the skeletons are starting to pour out.
Here is a brief timeline of the major events that took place:
•August, 2003—Scientists discover the substance is a previously unknown steroid called Tetrahydrogestrinone, or more affectionately called THG;
•Sept. 3, 2003—Authorities raid the BALKO offices and seize containers of steroids, human growth hormone (HGH), and testosterone;
•Sept. 5, 2003—The residence of Greg Anderson, personal trainer of Barry Bonds and associate to Conte, is raided. Seized are suspected anabolic steroids, $60,000 in cash, and documents with the names of athletes, along with types of drugs and schedules;
•Oct. 18, 2003—Conte gives a list of 40 elite athletes to be subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury after Conte, Anderson, and two other men are investigated on possible drug and money laundering violations.
Some 27 athletes, with more to come, have been interviewed by the grand jury, but due to immunity provided for truthful testimony, anything said or asked cannot be released unless the matter is brought to trial.
The documents seized in the raid, though, can be examined. They include calendars for athletes that supposedly kept track of their drugs showing how long to cycle and when to add new drugs.
Most of the documents are in code (initials rather name full names, etc.) and lack solid proof, such as positive drug tests and testimony, so it is very difficult to prove an athlete guilty.
The USADA, however, along with major league baseball and football (after creating new tests to detect the previously untraceable THG and re-testing urine samples) already have suspended or banned more than a dozen athletes, and investigations are underway involving many more.
Among the most recognizable is Tim Montgomery, the world’s fastest man, who admitted to using HGH starting two years before he set the record in 2002. The USDA is seeking a life-time ban.
But how could a stocky, balding, former rock-and-roll drummer from Fresno get connected with some of the world’s most superior athletes? Seven Degrees of Victor Conte:
1). Meets Olympic coach Randy Huntington
2). Huntington is the personal trainer to linebacker Bill Romanowski
3). Romanowski becomes piper for Conte in return for free treatments. He introduces Conte to world-class track coach Remi Korchemny
4). Romanowski has ties with Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken and a number of football players
5). Korchemny exposes Conte to Olympic athletes and form the ZMA Track Club (employs Greg Anderson—personal trainer of Barry Bonds)
6). Among ZMA Track Club’s many clients is Tim Montgomery
7). Tim Montgomery is the boyfriend of Marion Jones
“All the athletes wanted to deal with the guy,” said Gregg Tafralis, a former shot putter and BALKO client. “The guy is the smartest [s.o.b.] I’ve ever met in my life.”
Conte says he is ready to spill what he knows and help clean up the sports world (though he helped dirty it). All he asks in return is not to be forced to plead guilty to money laundering to avoid jail time and be guaranteed probation.
In judicial circles, this is called playing the Tony Soprano card, but it is uncertain whether he’s playing with truth or cowardice.
His lawyer, Robert H. Holley, even wrote a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush two weeks ago, pleading to the president that such a request is in the best interest of America.
“We, all of us, need to do everything possible to send a clean Olympic team to Athens. If we fail to do so, and the information about our failure is later made public, after the Olympic medals are given out, the results could be disastrous.
“A public outcry will be heard around the world that Americans are fraudulent rule breakers and cannot be trusted.”
Too late.

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