PEDs and the Olympics: Gaming the Games

Performance-enhancing drugs will be part of the Summer Games. How big a part depends on whom you ask, and who gets caught.

PEDs and the Olympics: Gaming the Games


Conte believes that these loopholes make the Games less than pristine. “Can somebody be clean and win a gold medal? I believe they can,” he says. “I know for a fact [boxer] Andre Ward did it in 2004. So I try to stick to the statement that it’s the overwhelming majority who use. But it’s not all.”

He says it doesn’t have to be that way, especially with updated techniques and nutritional support that didn’t exist when Conte started BALCO in the ’90s. He uses cutting-edge training techniques and performs stringent nutritional analysis with his athletes. “Science has taught us that an athlete like Marlen can be clean and superior to an athlete that doesn’t have all these technologies that we use.”

For professional combat sports, Conte advocates a new voluntary drug-testing system known as VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Association), established by well-known boxing physician Margaret Goodman. While it has
no regulatory authority, VADA allows fighters to step into the ring confident that their competition isn’t gaining a chemical edge if both sides agree to the test. VADA fills the loopholes of standard tests used by state athletic commissions by utilizing CIR as the initial screen.

In early May, VADA announced its first positive test: junior welterweight champion Lamont Peterson, who was scheduled to fight Amir Kahn on May 19. At press time, the surprising positive test result (Peterson himself pushed for the VADA test) wasn’t resolved. While it’s unclear how the VADA results will play out with the Peterson and Kahn fight, the drama seems to prove Conte’s case about CIR tests.

While Conte knows his motives will always be questioned, nobody can deny he knows the vulnerabilities in the system. Yet the Games go on, and the IOC and USOC want nothing to do with him. In fact, Conte has heard that officials are prepared to ban him from attending the London Olympics, even though he’s a trusted member of Marlen Esparza’s team. He’s even gotten wind of a plan to prevent him from entering the country.

Whether he’s standing under gray English skies or not, Victor Conte will be watching the Summer Games. And like him, we’ll be watching, too, for the excitement, the inspiration, the patriotic swell in our chests. We’ll tune in to see the greatest athletes in the world doing things we can only dream of, with an implicit understanding of the underlying truth of it all: Regardless of PEDs, self-righteous broadcasters, grandstanding politicians, inadequate tests, or hypocritical legislation, these men and women are still the greatest athletes in the world.