If you saw “Icarus” and you are tempted to tsk, tsk about the Russians and re-fight the Cold War via proxy through the Olympics and international sport, remember, please, that karma has its own zen: the American way can gin up the most vivid details to rival any hole in anybody’s wall.
Kayle LeoGrande, the self-described “tattooed guy” who sparked the investigation that ultimately would bring down Lance Armstrong — the investigation that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would call “a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history” — that guy — just got tagged with his second doping strike — by USADA — with no less than seven — say that again, seven — not-allowed substances in him.
At one time!
There’s so much to unpack here, and incredibly this matter has received almost zero mainstream attention. Which is also part of the unpacking, because it tells you just how complex, difficult and nuanced the anti-doping scene is, really.
Let’s start here:
“I’m about as surprised as I’m sure some people are about this,” LeoGrande said Wednesday in a nearly 45-minute telephone call from his base east of Los Angeles.
“I’m sure it looks bad,” he added before explaining that he had taken what he called a “male-enhancement product” that a nearby cycling-store friend had given him, a concoction in a dropper that was said to be a potent mix of Levitra, Viagra and Cialis. LeoGrande said he asked the friend if the concoction held any worry for sports-related anti-doping purposes. No, he was told. So, LeoGrande said, “That’s my bad.”
LeoGrande added, in a reference to the two-year suspension he served after an arbitration panel ruled him liable in 2008 for the blood-booster EPO, “If I was going to cheat, I know how to cheat.”
Life — real life — is not a movie. In real life, Russians are not intrinsically evil, Americans are not the Justice League. Enhancement, denial, excuses, amazing stories — these go on everywhere.
If you are already screaming something like, the McLaren Report, the Russians, it’s their state that is purportedly connected to the use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs, stop — remember, the United States is the only country in the world where Olympic sport is not an arm of a federal ministry. When American athletes confront USADA, of course it’s the individual, or the team. It’s apples and oranges.
This is why it’s absurd to link individual culpability to notions of collective responsibility. Everyone everywhere deserves to be judged on his or her own merit — not on what “the system” did or did not do.
Because memories tend to be short, let us all recall that the Armstrong matter — essentially the most extensive team doping scheme a capitalist system could produce, according to USADA — is far from over. The U.S. government’s civil fraud case against Armstrong is due to go to trial in November.
To suggest, meanwhile, that the Russians are somehow morally more culpable than anyone else anywhere would fly in the face of — well, the facts.
Out this week, a peer-reviewed study from 2011, funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Nine researchers from Europe and the United States surveyed a total of 2,167 athletes at that year’s track and field world championships (in Daegu, South Korea) and at the Pan-Arab Games (in Doha, Qatar). Granted anonymity in answering, they were asked this question: “Have you knowingly violated anti-doping regulations by using a prohibited substance or method in the last 12 months?”
After allowing for some statistical refinement, researchers estimated doping prevalence among athletes at the two events thusly:
— track and field championships, 44 percent
— Pan-Arab Games, 57 percent
About 1 to 2 percent of the thousands upon thousands of urine and blood tests that WADA oversees annually turn up positive.
A newer system called the Athlete Biological Passport — measuring an individual’s markers over time — yields a positive return rate of about 14 percent.
As a follow-up, authorities told John Leicester of Associated Press they believe they have made progress since 2011 in the anti-doping campaign.
This is where the case of Kayle LeoGrande, and the Masters 35+ category of the Dana Point Grand Prix of Cycling in April 2017, may perhaps prove instructive.
From the USADA statement:
“LeoGrande, 40, tested positive for raloxifene, ostarine, ibutamoren, GW1516 sulfone, RAD140, LGD4033 and andarine as the result of an in-competition urine sample he provided on April 30, 2017. Raloxifene and GW1516 sulfone, a metabolite of GW1516, are prohibited substances in the class of Hormone and Metabolic Modulators; ostarine, RAD140, LGD4033 and andarine are prohibited substances in the class of Anabolic Agents; and ibutamoren is a prohibited substance in the class of Peptide Hormones, Growth Factors, Related Substances and Mimetics.”
Before turning to the translation of what all those substances are, the upshot:
It’s six years after those 2011 surveys, more or less … a bike race in Orange County is hardly the Tour de France … LeoGrande won the race, so he knew he would be tested … he denies intentional misconduct … the science says he won a lower-level race with seven substances in him … and the world’s best are somehow going to do better than first place at the Dana Point Grand Prix of Cycling without taking — anything?
Extension of that logic tree:
Who wants to argue, seriously, that sport at its highest levels is cleaner now than in 2011?
Come on. Really?
LeoGrande said by phone, referring to doping in the peloton, “In Europe, whether the public wants to believe it or not, it’s still happening at that level. I have riders I talk to. It’s still happening. They pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. It’s still happening. Why? Money.”
If it was EPO 10 or 15 years ago, the game now has shifted to SARMs and other alphabet soup of the sort that USADA threw out in that news release for public consumption. If you are interested, for research purposes only, of course, the internet is full of interesting sites — for instance, here, here, here and here.
What does SARM stand for? Selective androgen receptor modulator. Translation: an alternative to steroids without steroid-related side effects.
Rad 140 is a SARM. GW1516 is “known as the ultimate enhancer and the ultimate stamina booster.”
And so on.
LeoGrande, asked point blank, said Wednesday he had never been on the internet to buy or search for such products:
“I know nothing about SARMs or peptides or anything like that,” he said at one point.
At another: “I guess I slightly cringe because I would never even know where to get these things or how to obtain these things.”
“When I hear SARMs or RAD or whatever — what is RAD? GW — what?” he asked at yet another.
He said time and again that he had been given a dropper: “Shame on me for believing a friend.”
Yes, he said, he knew that as an athlete subject to USADA protocols, particularly one who had served a suspension, he was responsible for what went in his system. So why take something the night before a race? “I was told I had nothing to worry about … I took my friend’s word for it.”
For this, LeoGrande is out for eight years. At 40, his racing career — he is the father of five children, one of whom just graduated from high school — is effectively over.
USADA, of course, gets what it wanted — a message, loud and clear, to the cycling world, and by extension beyond, about SARMS, peptides and other 2017-, not 2007-style, products: if the very guy who jump-started the Armstrong thing can go out for eight years, what about you?
Signals are all well and good. They are not to be dismissed or, for that matter, demeaned. Signals are important.
But any serious attempt to confront the broader doping matter must — repeat, must — get serious when it comes to money.
As it happens, WADA released its annual report last Thursday.
Turn to page 62. WADA’s 2016 funding amounted to $29.96 million. For the year, it showed a loss of $729,431.
The International Olympic Committee matches, dollar for dollar, whatever WADA can raise from wherever, as this space has noted repeatedly. This includes a $1.43 million chunk from the governments of Canada and Quebec for WADA to run its base in Montreal (see note 14, page 78). Take that out; take out the IOC’s share, too; now the worldwide share for WADA is down to about $14.5 million-ish.
Howl all you want about the Russians or “Icarus.”
Plain truth: $30 million, or roughly half that much from governments (which tells you with clarity what they think how important sports doping is on the priority scale) is simply not enough to do much of anything, particularly if we are talking, genuinely, about 44 or 57 percent.
Particularly when there is a whole new raft of stuff out there that’s easily buyable on the internet. And worse: if there’s a test for IGF-1 LR3, that would be news to Victor Conte, who has been telling authorities for more than two years now that use of it is going unchecked and on Wednesday reiterated that warning. Insulin growth factor is commonly known to help build muscle and is more potent than growth hormone, Conte noted.
Especially when athletes — and their entourage and, in some cases, government officials — have powerful motivation to deny, deny, deny. Until, for whatever reason, the truth, or some version of it, emerges.
Denial is not just that river in Egypt nor is it hardly unique to the snowparks and ice rinks of Russia.
Think Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Marion Jones — the American list is long, too.
This digression: Landis, according to the Orange County Register, attended the 2017 Dana Point Grand Prix. He related that he now owns a company called Floyd’s of Leadville, which sells marijuana in Colorado. “Marijuana is a little like cycling,” Landis told the newspaper. “People are obsessed by both.”
Karma, zen, the way life turns: genuinely amazing.
In that first brush with USADA nearly 10 years ago, Leogrande — it was a small g then — denied wrongdoing throughout the arbitration hearing.
In 2011, he told Cycling News that his team had advised him to deny all charges. He said in that interview, “Now after serving my suspension I can say I was guilty. It’s not something I’m proud of, and I just want to move on with my life. Over the last two years I’ve struggled with many things that my bad decisions brought into my life from this, financially and mentally, and at the end of the day I feel grateful to have learned valuable lessons, and the ability to see things more clearly.”
It is perhaps worth noting that on page 12 of that 2008 ruling, the arbitrators observed, referring to Leogrande, “Respondent did not recall important events and conversations when it would have been very helpful for him to do so.”
Giving LeoGrande the benefit of the doubt, on his Facebook page he says he took "a supplement." The skeptic would note that he followed that up by saying “it came back positive for a banned substance.” Not, you know, seven.
On Wednesday, LeoGrande said by phone of this second positive test, “The burden falls on me and I take full responsibility for it. I 1,000 percent was not taking anything to get stronger on my bike, or SARMs, or whatever it is.”
He also said, “If people think I would be that dumb,” meaning to have deliberately taken the cocktail of substances found in his system, “everyone is entitled to their opinion. The truth is, I have no way of knowing how those things got in that dropper. If I had known, I wouldn’t have taken it.”
And, “This one — this is a pretty tough pill to swallow, just in regard to how this happened.”