To: Will Carroll
You have been asking the right questions to the right people.
How can I contact you? X.
After I'd spent months of investigating steroids in sports, this simple e-mail was a shocking breakthrough. It led me to the man who purports to be one of the leading creators of designer steroids--including THG, a.k.a. the clear, the drug at the center of the BALCO controversy. I cannot prove that he is who he claims to be, but I believe he is.
Our meeting took place in a midsized Midwestern airport. Dr. X, as I thought of him, had left instructions: I would wear jeans, a white T-shirt and an "appropriate" jacket--and have nothing in my pocket except one credit card, one bill no larger than a 10, plus my car key. There would be no recording devices, notepad or cameras. At the meeting I'd empty my pockets into my hand.
I walked to the spot Dr. X had indicated and took a seat. Soon a man in a wheelchair sat opposite me. He was solidly built. He wore a hat pulled low, and his eyes were too green to be anything but contacts. He pointed to the floor.
I looked down and said, "Darn floor"--one of our prearranged passwords. He popped a piece of candy into his mouth. "Big bite," he said. This was it.
"You've got 30 minutes before I'm back on a plane," he said.
I asked how he created THG. He explained that it is a substance that is chemically similar to Gestrinone (an infertility drug) and Trenbolone (an anabolic steroid), and that it had been around since the late 1990s. While Dr. X wasn't the first to make it, he refined the process and was one of the few who could produce and distribute the substance. He'd get Gestrinone by sending women to a fertility specialist "who'd write the pass [prescription], and we'd pay cash. Doctors love that, man. We'd spend a couple hundred, spin it [mix the components] and sell it for a couple thousand."
He said there was a lot of cheap "gear" (the term insiders use for steroids) on the market, made for "pathetic losers looking not to have sand kicked in their faces. The world-class athletes who use my stuff can afford good gear"--the kind impossible to detect.
Dr. X doesn't sell the drugs to athletes, though; he prefers to deal with distributors. "The users can't be trusted, even though they have their [reputations] to lose because--guess what? They're users. They'll lie, cheat, steal, kill their grandma to get what they want."
"So you never have contact with athletes?"
"Not zero contact." Dr. X said he went to events like The Arnold Classic, a bodybuilding contest and trade show in Columbus, Ohio, cofounded by Arnold Schwarzenegger, where "I'd see guys--but I don't need athletes. You saw [BALCO president Victor] Conte there acting like a rock star, putting him and [Barry] Bonds in ads for zinc. Give me a break. I don't have that ego. I know my stuff is the best out there. I hear who's working with who. I know who's winning."
Dr. X is famous in the steroid underworld because his drugs are undetectable--THG, for example, breaks down when the sample dries out in the testing process. He showed no patience for athletes who use detectable steroids such as Deca (which Jason Giambi reportedly admitted using). "Idiots," he said. "Is testing a problem for those people? Yes, but life is a problem for them. Most of these guys aren't more than savants who have a physical skill or two."
He was especially disdainful of Giambi. "Here is this guy with all the money in the world who's taking something you can find at Gold's Gym? You take Deca today and come back in 2006, and you're gonna pop [test positive]. A guy on my stuff could walk into the test with a needle in his ass and not worry."
The leagues, he said, were overmatched. The metaphor I'd heard was that tests were like looking through mug shots; if the shot wasn't already in the book, you couldn't identify the perpetrator. "Exactly!" he said. "If the NFL wants to test for every known steroid, that's more than 100 tests per player--32 teams, 53 players, 100 tests; and they aren't cheap. And that's for known substances. I know there's 10 they don't know about."
What about kids using his gear?
He ducked the question. "You want to fix this? Legalize it. Let me work in the open. Make my stuff prescription only. The amateur crap will still be there, but no one will have any incentive to take it. And don't give me any sob story about it ruining sports. None of them are going broke. More home runs means more money."
They called his flight. As he rolled to the gate, he asked if I'd been an athlete. I smiled and said his gear wouldn't have helped.
"Give me six weeks, and I'd have you in the best shape of your life," he said with a wink. For the first time I knew exactly what Faustian meant. I turned and walked back to my car, quickly. ‚ñ†
Will Carroll is coauthor of The Juice, which will be in stores on April 26.
"Curry's illness means the Bulls will be without their leading scorer for the playoffs." --FOR THE RECORD, PAGE 20
ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF WONG