BALCO founder Victor Conte, in addition to exploring the health supplement business since his brief stay in prison for distributing performance-enhancing drugs, has sought to educate anti-doping authorities.
To catch a cheat, you have to know how one thinks and works, argues Conte, who says BALCO supplied steroids to Olympic sprinter Marion Jones, boxer Shane Mosley and the trainer of baseball's all-time home run leader Barry Bonds, among others.
Conte has met with the former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Dick Pound. He's expressed interest in one day airing his experiences to Congress. And he was scheduled to speak Friday at a worldwide anti-doping seminar in Colorado; he was invited to appear by the head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart.
Less than three weeks later, however, Tygart dropped the invitation, Conte said. Tygart sent Conte some e-mails saying he was disappointed to read Conte's press statements about how he'd handle the appearance.
Conte has been a constant thorn in anti-doping authorities' sides, complaining about federal investigator Jeff Novitzky's tactics, criticizing a testing system he says is lax during athletes' off-seasons and speculating about how some are beating authorities who have gathered millions of dollars to nab cheats.
Tygart did not immediately return calls after messages were left for him this week.
In an e-mail to The Times Friday, Conte detailed the cancelled appearance:
"1. At the time Travis invited me to speak at the conference, he stated that the topic could be of my choice, that I could either choose to provide specific information or not.
"2. Travis said a focus of the conference would be how to conduct more intelligent testing. He also stated that he would specifically like me to tell my fishing story analogy [about increasing out-of-competition testing]. I have publicly stated on many occasions that the fourth quarter of the year is when many Olympic-caliber athletes use anabolic steroids. They do so in conjunction with intensive weight training to develop an explosive strength base that serves them many months later during the competitive season. I've had meetings with USADA officials on three separate occasions and advised them each time that the drug testing conducted at competitions is not the most effective use of resources. Athletes can simply taper off of the drugs and test negative within a short period of time. Elite athletes are primarily using drugs during the off-season. I have often posed the following question: 'If the anti-doping officials know that the fourth quarter is when the fish are biting, then why do they reel in their hooks and lines and lean their fishing poles up against a tree and take a nap during that period?' For example, in the fourth quarter of 2007, which was the off-season training period before the 2008 Olympic Games, why did USADA significantly reduced the number of out-of-competition tests performed compared to the first three quarters of the year? It simply does not make
sense, if the objective is to catch athletes using drugs."
"3. When I ask[ed] Travis whether or not Jeff Novitzky would be in attendance, he said 'No.'
However, he did advise me that a DEA official was scheduled to give a presentation at the conference. He later claimed in the e-mail in which he withdrew his invitation that it was not the case that other law enforcement officials would be in attendance. (I wrote down this official's name as well as the name of his high-profile drug investigation.)
"4. I told Travis that I planned to talk about collusion, corruption and positive drug test
cover-ups that I was aware of within anti-doping organizations and laboratories. He was
in agreement when the invitation was made that I was free to talk about these sensitive issues.
"5. I am really not surprised that the invitation I received from Travis was
ultimately withdrawn once it became public knowledge that I planned to talk about such
sensitive issues. In short, my agenda is to help bring into focus the significant changes
that I believe are needed in order to make the drug testing more effective. Drug testing will never be
foolproof, but I do believe that it has improved and can become much more effective in the
"Travis Tygart does deserve a lot of credit for his years of hard work on the behalf of clean athletes.
I will remain hopeful that we can eventually develop the trust necessary to work together to help
the athletic playing field become as close to level as possible."
-- Lance Pugmire
Photo: Victor Conte arrives at court during his BALCO trial. Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press