The athlete's underground drugs guide

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The Independent Online
It is printed in purple ink on blood-red paper so no one can photocopy it. If you want to read it, you have to buy it from a mail- order company for pounds 11. But if you are a young and ambitious athlete who wants to reach the top fast, it may seem worth it.

It is called the Underground Steroid Handbook II, and its front cover depicts a pumped-up, heavily veined arm bursting through a wall. This is the athletic equivalent of a get-rich-quick guide for businessmen.

It describes the uses of anabolic (muscle-building) steroids and how to take them. Chapter seven gives details of each steroid on the market. It also lists clenbuterol, the asthma medication for which the British weightlifters Andrew Davies and Andrew Saxton, tested positive. The handbook says the substance is not a steroid but 'acts as an anabolic agent.' It adds prophetically that 'clenbuterol is not (yet) banned in drug tested competitions'.

Britain's three disgraced athletes may now be wishing they had had the opportunity to study one section of the handbook. Entitled 'Beating the test', it reveals exactly how many days or weeks before a competition athletes must stop taking a particular drug in order to defy detection.

It also describes the ingenious anti-testing device employed by a couple of women athletes. They inserted a bag inside their vaginas containing 'clean' urine which they then squirted into the sample bottle by flexing their muscles.

The Underground Steroid Handbook was written by an American, Daniel Duchaine, who was jailed by US authorities for possessing anabolics. But the book is also widely available on mail order and through bodybuilding magazines in Britain. As its title suggests, it has an underground readership which hovers around the thriving sub- culture of the gym.

While all eyes are now firmly fixed on the Olympics, back home in the weights room of the local gymnasium ordinary men quietly carry on with their ordinary work- outs enhanced by less than ordinary drugs. For them, steroids are so much a part of life they cannot understand what all the fuss in Barcelona is about.

'Everybody's doing it,' said the owner of a London gym who has been associated with the drugs-in-sport scene for eight years. 'Most of the bodybuilders I know are doped to their eyeballs. The hard part is spotting someone who's not on the gear.'

What stuns veterans of the gym circuit, he said, is that athletes are ever caught using drugs. 'You can always find somebody on the black market who knows about steroids and can show you how to hoodwink the authorities.' Jason Livingston, the British sprinter, was sent home from Barcelona having been found to have traces of the banned steroid methandianone in his urine sample. 'But that's one of the easiest drugs to detect,' the gym owner said. 'He must have been very badly informed.'

Livingston denies having taken steroids and insists the only supplement that passed his lips was Musashi, an amino-acid formula produced in Australia which is approved by sporting bodies. Musashi is widely used by weightlifters and is advertised in the World Weightlifting Magazine as a product which 'enhances performance . . . naturally'.

According to the Sports Council, steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are imported to Britain via mail-order companies based on the Continent. In Britain steroids are available only on prescription, but it is legal to sell them over the counter in France, Germany, Spain and several other European countries.

Once in Britain, the drugs circulate through gyms and fitness centres. People who work out in these gyms on a regular basis are approached by suppliers offering them 'performance aids' such as growth hormones, which are banned but have the advantage of being undetectable. The only disincentive is price. For maximum effect, steroids are often taken in conjunction with growth hormones to encourage muscle growth as well as reduce fat.

Protabol, listed in the handbook as 'the most promising, most potent anabolic' is popular on the British gym circuit. It costs between pounds 15 and pounds 30 for a bag of 100 5mg tablets. Men on stringent pumping-iron programmes can consume 30 tablets a day.

Nobody knows to what extent drug-taking extends out of the gym into the more closely-monitored world of track and field. Hugh Jones, a British marathon runner who recently won the Stockholm marathon, suspects that drugs are used more widely than people think.

'Ben Johnson is the one we all point to as the man who took drugs. But I would not be surprised if many other Olympic athletes haven't played a similar game.'

But lest any budding young athletes should be tempted to jump on the steroid bandwagon, let them take a long, hard look at chapter nine of the handbook: 'Side-effects'.

Women, it says, can develop a deepening voice, big nose and enlarged clitoris. Men can go bald, acquire acne and suffer from what Mr Duchaine calls 'decreased frequency of erections'.

(Photograph omitted)