Because of sophisticated, close-to-foolproof scientific testing procedures that have evolved over the past five years, it's getting tougher and tougher to be a criminal-athlete these days. That's the opinion of Dr. Robert O. Voy, the chief medical officer of the United States Olympic Committee.
Dr. Voy took time away from his dual duties aschief medical officer and departmental detective to talk to assembled Olympic-bound journalists about drugs, drug abuse and drug detection recently.
This man is the Elliott Ness of the USOC. The thorn in the side of those who would use and/or distribute achievement-enhancing drugs. He's never met a stimulant he liked. He knows what anabolic steroids can do to the human body. He believes all athletes were created equal and should stay that way.
And he thinks drug-testing - since its somewhat dramatic entrance onto to the scene at Venezuela at the Pan American Games in 1983, when a large percentage of the U.S. team coincidentally decided to leave Venezuela before the Games (and the testing) began - is turning the tide.
The dark side is staggering. The cheaters are are on the slide.
Whereas, as Dr. Voy speculates, as many as 50 percent of the athletes in a pre-1983 competition were probably using, or abusing, drugs, the statistics since 1983, where drug-testing has been prevalent, indicate that at any given meet you'll find a crime ratio of only two to three percent. Out of 9,405 USOC-administered drug tests in the past five years, there have been just 198 positive results.
The good doctor rolls his eyes when he talks about that two to three percent.
"They're either real cocky, or they've miscalculated when they should have gotten off the drug, or they're just plain stupid," he says.
The testing of urine is so effective, says Dr. Voy, that it is very difficult to beat the system. Athletes have figured this out, to the point that many are now requesting drug-testing so that their cheating peers will be caught.
There are, of course, those criminal minds that cling to the cause of beating the system. New blocking agents are always cropping up to mask the use of drugs, anabolic steroids in particular. Probenecid is the latest blocking substance that has been identified, and subsequently placed on the USOC's banned list.
Dr. Voy is reasonably sure that the Seoul Olympics - since the International Olympic Committee generally follows the same drug-testing rules as the USOC - will be clean of stimulants, steroids (at least in the recent past), beta-blockers, diuretics and narcotics. All of America's athletes, certainly, will have been tested, and will face more testing in Seoul.
There is one area, however, where the doctor expects wholesale misuse in Seoul.
"Blood doping," he says, "should be rampant."
So far, blood doping is the perfect crime.
"There is no known detection," says Dr. Voy.
What is known is that blood doping can be very effective. A recent study, as verified by the American Medical Association, indicated that blood doping can increase the time of a 10,000-meter runner, for instance, by 67 seconds.
That's like telling a .300 hitter he can hit .400.
Blood doping is a simple concept. An athlete takes two units of blood - about 25 percent of capacity - from his body about three months prior to Competition Day. The blood, loaded with healthy red (oxygen-carrying) corpuscles, is frozen. Then, just a day or two before competition, the blood is put back in the athlete's body. Presto, oxygen-carrying capacity is increased anywhere from 12 to 30 percent.
To date, there have only been two cases where blood doping has been discovered. And in both cases, the guilty parties blew the whistle on themselves. At least partly. In the one case, Dr. Ed Burke, the physician to the U.S. cycling team in the 1984 Olympics, admitted that he administered blood doping to the cyclists, many of whom won medals. In the other case, U.S. cross-country skier Kerry Lynch confessed to blood doping a couple of years ago.
It takes teamwork to blood dope. "You need the right chemicals to add to the blood, you need to freeze it quickly, and you need to store it properly," says Dr. Voy. "It isn't something you can do by yourself. You need a physician."
Teams filing into the Athlete's Village in Korea loaded with medical paraphernalia, and plenty of six packs of blood, should be immediately suspected.
"But we'll find a test, and we'll beat blood doping," says Dr. Voy. "Maybe not for these Olympics, but in the not too distant future. We always figure it out eventually."
That's the voice of right talking, that's the word from the bar of justice; from the man who is holding that line against performance enhancing drugs with six of the most ominous words ever known to man: "There's Going To Be A Test."