COLORADO SPRINGS, July 28 -- Just one scientist or scientific group likely masterminded the creation of the two barely known steroids at the center of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) scandal, the lab director who identified the two drugs said Wednesday.
"The more I think about this and put it all together, I become more and more convinced that whoever was behind this knew quite well what they were doing," said Don Catlin of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory in Los Angeles. "This was sophisticated work. . . . I don't know whether it was one person alone or a consortium . . . [but] I see no reason to suspect there are two independent groups" who made the steroids.
Catlin's remarks came via telephone during a session with reporters at U.S. Anti-Doping Agency headquarters after bans were handed out to five athletes -- Regina Jacobs, Kevin Toth, John McEwen, Melissa Price and Dwain Chambers -- who last summer tested positive for THG, one of the two steroids Catlin identified.
In its February indictment of four men connected to BALCO on federal steroid distribution charges, the government alleged that the two steroids, norbolethone and THG, were provided to athletes under the code name "clear." The government did not speculate on the source of the drugs, which had previously been undetectable in standard urine screens.
In May, the San Jose Mercury News reported that Victor Conte, the owner of BALCO, told federal investigators that famed supplement-maker Patrick Arnold supplied THG, whose chemical name is tetrahydragestrinone and which Catlin identified last summer. Two years ago in an interview with The Post, Arnold, who created the recently banned over-the-counter steroid andro, denied a connection to any athletes but said he might at one time have made norbolethone, discovered by Catlin in 2002.
After Catlin unearthed the drugs, one cyclist tested positive for norbolethone and five track and field athletes tested positive for THG. All received bans of varying lengths from their sports' governing bodies. It is unclear, however, how widespread the use of the drugs was before officials had the means to detect them. Catlin speculated that norbolethone was used as far back as 2000.
Federal officials have not charged anyone in connection with the production of the drugs, which are not technically illegal since they are not among the anabolic steroids specifically banned by Congress in 1990.
Catlin speculated that a knowledgeable scientist manufactured norbolethone after reading about its properties in old steroid literature. Wyeth Laboratories in Philadelphia studied norbolethone during the 1960s but it eventually abandoned the research and never marketed the drug. Catlin said he believed the producer obtained gestrinone -- a banned anabolic steroid that can be purchased online from overseas sources -- and bubbled hydrogen gas through it to create norbolethone and then, by shortening the process, THG.
"People out there somewhere were bound and determined to make steroids we wouldn't know about," said Catlin. "The story is not over."
In other news, USADA officials revealed that they received three telephone calls from the anonymous coach who on June 5, 2003, mailed them a syringe that contained THG and led to its discovery. USADA spokesman Rich Wanninger said the coach provided several pieces of information:
The coach claimed that four U.S. athletes and one international athlete were receiving an undetectable steroid similar to Genabol -- another name for norbolethone -- from Conte and had no fear of testing positive. The coach also said track coach Remi Korchemny was involved. Korchemny was among the four men, including Conte, indicted in February. All have pled not guilty.
The coach claimed the drug was sometimes mixed with flaxseed oil and ingested by placing a few drops on the tongue.
The coach also claimed that Conte showed up to the U.S. track and field championships in June 2003 and distributed substances to athletes from a black bag.
The Mercury News reported in July that Trevor Graham, the former coach of Marion Jones, provided the syringe to USADA. Graham has repeatedly declined to comment. His name, meantime, has surfaced in connection with other drug charges. Sprinter Tim Montgomery told the BALCO grand jury that Graham himself was involved in the distribution of banned drugs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.