Designer Steroids and Mainstream Professional
Culturekiosque: In view of the demand for
designer steroids, how easy is it to recruit qualified chemists
to develop cutting edge steroids?
Jason Thomas: There are two types of chemists
out there. One that enjoys the pure chemistry of creating a new
compound. They see past the fact that it is illegal. The second
type would be those looking for monetary gain. After obtaining
a Ph.D. in Chemistry, graduates are often funneled into the
pharmaceutical industry, which looks for the best of the best.
Those that are less gifted might be tempted to work for a
steroid laboratory. After all, steroid chemistry is not
super-difficult chemistry and the work is lucrative. If you
have a lab with a Ph.D. professional, you can staff it with
lower level chemists or recent graduates to run the reactions.
Similarly, in pharmaceutical labs there are a few senior Ph.D.s
and a number of lower level chemists who run the reactions.
CK: Surely Americans, who are very
knowledgeable and passionate on the subject of sports, are not
naïve to the pervasive use of performance enhancing drugs in
sports. However, they react with shock, outrage and disdain
when an athlete is charged with their use/abuse. Please
JT: In life, we each need two types of
individuals: role models and heroes. Role models are those
individuals whose direction we can follow to achieve what they
have achieved. The key is, we can reach the level they have
attained. And then there are the heroes - those individuals
who are superhuman, and their feats and attributes simply
cannot be achieved. We do not look to follow their direction;
instead, we deify them. There is no disappointment or jealousy
in the fact that we cannot aspire to their level; instead,
there is a great sense of satisfaction that mankind can reach
such unimaginable heights.
The great athletes of our
time are not role models. They are heroes. Although our
rational mind is aware that such greatness is likely achieved
only with the assistance of performance enhancers, the
deification process blocks such blasphemy from our conscious
When one of our athletic gods tests positive for enhancers, we
are much more than simply deceived. In fact, we are betrayed,
as we have ignored our own rational thought and intelligence in
our unconditional devotion to our hero. But, more importantly,
in our minds the hero becomes nothing more than a man or woman
who has artificially propelled themselves to superhuman status.
Now, we can become what we have worshipped for so long.
Although this would seem like an exciting epiphany, it is not.
It simply reminds us of our mundane lives - that we are not
surrounded by living gods.
If you are going to see gladiatorial games, little men fighting
with sticks won't fill seats. Huge gladiators fighting savage
beasts or other huge gladiators will fill seats.
Professional sports must fill seats with fans interested in
seeing heroes in their natural element. Thus, every
professional sport needs heroes. And these "heroes" need
performance enhancing drugs. I don't understand why or how the
American public pretends to deny or be outraged over the charge
of steroid use.
CK: Chinese labs have been a constant source
of performance enhancing drugs for both professional and
amateur athletes globally. It seems interesting that the
Olympic Games are being hosted by a country where such
enhancers are high in quality, cheap in price, and highly
JT: It would not be appropriate for the
International Olympic Committee, IOC, to select or ban any
country from hosting the games based solely on that country's
status as home to the manufacturers of illegal performance
enhancers. These enhancers are simply too prevalent and too
easily transported globally.
However, do I think that the athletes who do choose to take
performance enhancers will enjoy the availability of labs and
apparent lack of regulation while in China? Does a child enjoy
an all day VIP pass to Disneyland?
Gene Doping and Genetically Modified Athletes
CK: Earlier this week, an American daily,
Cleveland Leader, reported that a British scientist,
Dr. Andy Miah, has warned that Beijing-bound athletes may be
injecting themselves with "super DNA." Would you care to
comment on this?
JT : Dr. Miah's reasoning is definitely
contemporary, in sharp contrast to the recent "realizations"
that have taken place on Capitol Hill. Where the media's
portrayal of performance enhancement use/abuse in athletics as
"breaking news" is years behind, Dr. Miah's predictions may be
slightly premature. However, the key word is here is
"slightly." At this point, stem cell research is more
pronounced and more documented than gene insertion. Stem cell
research is directed more towards regeneration than
enhancement. Research concerning genetic manipulation via gene
insertion is a research topic more in its infant phase, but
quickly gaining both support and funding.
Gene doping, at least at this stage, is far more expensive,
complicated and uncertain, contrary to the relative inexpense
and tenure of research and definitive results associated with
other performance enhancers such as steroidal compounds and
Top professional athletes will be hesitant to jump on the gene
doping bandwagon until its methods are more accessible and
enhancing results more conclusive.Someone with a lucrative
contract or the near certainty of one will be hesitant to use a
method with uncertain results. However, those athletes who are
not yet at the level mentioned above and who value a chance at
fame and fortune more than their health may quickly jump
onboard...or may already be in the driver's seat.
CK: What comments do you have concerning the
permeation of steroids in the mainstream media such as the
Roger Clemens testimony on Capitol Hill, Jose Canseco's book,
JT: It's old news. These stories portray the
use of performance enhancers in professional athletics as a
novel and burgeoning topic, not as a tenured staple in high
school, collegiate, and amateur and professional sports.
However, I do not want to sound overly cynical because I
believe the intended purpose of the crackdown is to make youth
in America and abroad aware of the potential dangers of
performance enhancers, as well as the legal and professional
repercussions. Making an example of some professional "heroes"
may have a much, much larger impact on our youth, than the
threat of legal consequences alone. I am strongly in favor of
educating our youth to take the most ethical path in life.
However, the public slaying of the careers of a few of our
sports heroes is not nearly enough to derail an amateur athlete
from dreams of a multi-million dollar contract and celebrity
status. To effectively remove performance enhancers from our
high school and collegiate locker rooms, these enhancers must
be removed from professional sports through effective,
A daunting task? Absolutely. An impossible task? Absolutely
Current testing for enhancers identifies compounds or close
structural relatives of that compound. However, the tests are
specific and make the "designer" market a relatively simple and
lucrative one. A designer enhancer is one that, while still
effective, cannot be detected by one of the specific tests just
described. Unless a committee or agency can determine the
structure of a certain designer enhancer or have that structure
disclosed in a testimony, it is like trying to find a needle in
a haystack. And if one designer enhancer can be identified, it
is immediately obsolete and replaced by another. As an analogy,
picture bacteria or a virus that constantly mutates, making
CK: Is there no solution then?
JT: The IOC and other testing agencies need
only to look to the template provided by the Pentagon's IT
defense system. If you want to create an operating system
impermeable to hackers, what do you do? You track down the
world's greatest hackers, offer the choice of employment and
immunity or significant jail time, and let them design your
system for you.
Editing by C. Davis Remignanti
Antoine du Rocher is managing editor of
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