August 2, 2012
Micro-dosing: the new trend in sports doping
Forget sophisticated, powerful steroids: when it comes to doping these days, the new trend rests on micro-dosing. "Smaller amounts are being taken in the hope that they will be undetectable," David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), told DPA in an interview. Victor Conte, the man behind the BALCO scandal that landed former star athlete Marion Jones in jail and in disgrace, agrees. "I don't believe they're using designer steroids these days. I believe they're using fast-acting testosterone," Conte recently told the San Francisco Chronicle. "You can micro-dose, you can use fast-acting creams and gels and patches," he said. The striking thing is that Howman, the top official at WADA, largely agrees, even if he praises the anti-doping programme that is in place in London 2012, where even the cleaning staff have orders to report any suspicious substances or wrapping they find in the rooms. "The IOC has got a very good programme in place," he said. "What you have to rely on is the ethics. (…) If the athletes come and they're responsible, and they come clean, it will be a great Games. If they try to cheat, hopefully they'll be caught." Asked how performance-enhancing drugs are currently taken, Howman - a New Zealander with an almost permanent good mood and a taste for irony - answers not unlike Conte. "There are sophistications - not the substances themselves, it's the amount that they're taking," Howman said. "So you have to adjust the process of analysis to ensure you combat that." The other challenge he sees is "substances that are produced naturally," such as testosterone and the human growth hormone. "They're hard to detect anyway, so you've got to tell the scientists, 'think like the cheaters so that you can detect what the cheaters are doing.' And that means micro-dosing, that means, make sure you use the best machinery to test the samples," he said. Howman explained to DPA the way sportspeople use micro-dosing. "What you're doing is taking a small amount to give you a little bit extra for the event, and then hopefully it will go through your body so that by the time you finish the event it won't come out in your urine or your blood. That's what they hope," he said. Conte, who founded the infamous BALCO lab and now leads in the Californian town of San Carlos, a firm called Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning (SNAC), gives more details. According to the Chronicle, Conte's contacts in the underworld of doping tell him that U.S. baseball players are now taking fast-acting synthetic testosterone, which is less powerful but is easily flushable from the system. Conte noted that he does not understand the IOC's obsession with testing during the Games, which he finds unnecessary. More than 6,400 doping tests are set to be done in London 2012. "When you build your explosive strength and speed and power base is October-November-December," he said. "You need to stick your hook and line and pole in the pond during this time frame. I know, because I was preparing people this way."