Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Don Catlin, widely considered the most respected chemist in the sports anti-doping community, has decided to leave the world of drug testing after more than 25 years to pursue research, he said yesterday.
In a field in which testers have struggled to keep up with the innovations of cheaters, Catlin, 68, has been credited with nearly a dozen major testing discoveries and busts over the last decade, making him the most feared scientist among athletes who cheat with performance-enhancing drugs.
"My feelings are a bit sad, but I'm really relieved and fairly optimistic," he said. "I have a lot I need to do and want to do. It's time for me to move on after 25 years."
Catlin said he will devote his time to developing and improving tests for human growth hormone and erythropoietin (EPO) through the newly created Anti-Doping Research Institute in Los Angeles, but his absence from the daily testing world as head of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory likely will cement what has been a major shift in the way drug cheats are pursued by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and World Anti-Doping Agency. In recent years, they have been relying more on investigative work and government assistance than testing alone.
"Don has had a remarkable career in anti-doping," said Travis Tygart, who was just named chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. "He is the epitome of integrity and fairness and scientific validity."
Though dozens of labs around the world conduct drug testing, Catlin has been considered the face of the enemy by many athlete drug users. A 2003 raid of the Northern California lab connected to the steroid scandal known as Balco produced a host of e-mails in which Catlin was mentioned as a specific adversary by the lab's ringleaders.
Most widely known for his discovery of the designer steroid THG, the drug at the center of the Balco scandal, Catlin's most impressive find might have been of an endurance-boosting drug called darbepoitin, a variant of the better-known EPO. Catlin anticipated the use of the substance at the 2002 Winter Games, and several skiers tested positive for it.
He has identified at least seven other steroids designed to avoid detection in drug tests, and one stimulant. He also helped develop the carbon isotope ratio (CIR) test, considered one of the most significant advancements in testing history. The CIR allows testers to distinguish between natural and artificial testosterone, effectively nullifying arguments that the elevation is natural from athletes who test positive for testosterone.
Catlin's decision comes a week after USADA chief executive Terry Madden stepped down from his post, but the departures were not related.
The UCLA lab, which analyzes drug tests for the Olympic movement, NCAA, NFL and minor league baseball, will continue to operate under a director not yet named. Also, testing is underway at an Olympic testing laboratory at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City under Dennis Crouch.
"I'm not walking out on the system," Catlin said. "The work will go on."
-- Amy Shipley