Anti-doping expert Don Catlin on Lance Armstrong’s confession, state of PED testing in sports
Lance Armstrong is scheduled to record an interview with Oprah on Monday where he reportedly will confess to doping and using other performance-enhancing drugs throughout his cycling career. Armstrong spent the past several years vigorously defending his reputation against all cheating allegations. At one point a few years ago, Armstrong was so intent on proving he was clean that he and his Astana racing team planned to hire Dr. Don Catlin’s Anti-Doping Research lab to constantly test him. Armstrong’s team was planning to post all the testing results on the Internet for transparency purposes. The deal fell through for several reasons — logistics and financial issues are a few of them — and Armstrong’s plan was abandoned.
On Saturday, Larry Brown Sports spoke with Dr. Catlin about Armstrong’s impending confession. Catlin, who is one of the founders of modern drug testing in sports and has provided testing for the NFL, NCAA, MLB, and Olympics, said he’s not surprised to learn of Armstrong’s usage and planned confession.
Armstrong used to boast that he had never failed a drug test. Catlin says he still had some suspicion about Lance as he would with any top cyclist.
“You can’t help but have suspicion when somebody is so accomplished and so over-the-top as one of the key members of the sport of cycling. Cycling and doping go together and they have for 40 years,” Catlin said. “You have to think very seriously about [whether a cyclist is cheating].
“You don’t like to think that way; you’d like to think that Lance and others are clean, but in reality, that’s not the case.”
Catlin believes Armstrong is only confessing as a last option.
“I think he’s cornered. He can’t go anywhere now. I always advise athletes — particularly ones I test and caught and if I get to know them — get it out fast, confess, turn the page and go on. If you try to fight it, you’re almost certainly not going to win. Fighting a drug test and trying to show that it’s not a positive doesn’t work.”
When asked how Armstrong got away with doping for so long, Catlin indicated it’s not that difficult.
“Unfortunately it’s rather easy to do. The book by his colleague, Tyler Hamilton, details how they beat the tests. I read that book three times and I don’t doubt a word in it. I think it’s all possible; you couldn’t write a book like that if you didn’t know the details of what was involved. It’s so positively clear to me that the details in that book are real.
“The way they did it works and it bothers me a lot because, by that time, we had been testing athletes and including EPO tests for a while. I had to sit down and read every word and ask, ‘could he have gotten away with it?’ And the answer is yes, yes he could. The disturbing thing is an athlete could be doing the same thing in 2013 and getting away with it.”
Though he couldn’t point to one specific reason, Catlin believes the deal to test Armstrong around 2008 and 2009 fell apart largely because of financial issues. Catlin did make one interesting point about the proposed testing in which all results would have been disclosed publicly, saying, “nobody would dare do that if they were dirty.”
Our conversation shifted from Lance Armstrong to the state of PED testing in sports. Catlin doesn’t believe testing is very effective, and he thinks the biggest reason is because the testers don’t have enough of a budget to make a significant difference.
“After being in this business for 25 years, I’m skeptical. To really clean it up, you need to have the organizations that are involved working together, and you need more money. The money that is available goes through WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). Their budget I think is $25-26 million a year. That’s a tinkle. That’s the salary of a top-level baseball player in the US. You’re not going to get the kind of things that are going to be able to block the kind of things that are going on with that kind of money. You have to get serious. USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) doesn’t have that kind of money either.
“If you really want to get all the drugs out of cycling and other sports, you have to redefine the game, do it differently, and it’s going to be expensive. I think when they come up against it, they can say, ‘Yeah, we can agree with that, but we don’t have the bucks.’ And so it’s going to go on. It’s unfortunate, but that’s where we are at.”
Catlin believes that the fundamental principles in drug testing need an overhaul.
“I think the role of science in top-level testing is very limited. You have to continue — you have to keep the lid on — but I would scale back and invest in other things. If you really want to make an impact, you need to address the fundamentals. I don’t see any fundamental stories coming out about what to do about it.”
MLB recently announced that they would begin blood testing athletes for HGH. Catlin supports the initiative even if he is skeptical about its effectiveness.
“I think it’s a great idea. They should have done it four or five years ago, but they’re doing it. It will catch a few people at first, but then they won’t catch anyone after that because the athletes will learn ways around it. They’ll learn the halftime (of the substance) and somebody will write a book explaining how you get around the growth hormone test. There will be ways around growth hormone.
“But you have to do [the test] otherwise people will criticize the organization. Until they get a different way of dealing with doping, I think it will go on.”
One of the problems Catlin sees is that while people are interested in drug testing athletes, there isn’t a serious concern about the issue.
“The public will read about the exposes, and they’ll read about Lance and say, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ but it’s not going to fix anything.”