Stoned by Les Earnest
Rolling Stone magazine and others publicly denounced blood doping that occurred during the 1984 Olympics. However, the Stone’s claims were mostly fabricated in spite of the fact that they had accurate inside information.
Originally published in the April 1985 issue of Cyclops USA.
During the public discussions of blood doping in January and February, the Federation and Olympic team members received quite a lot of attention from national media. Just when it appeared that we had heard the last of it, a national sports cartoon took a few more jabs in late March, as follows
While it was embarrassing to have our problems discussed so publicly, the fact that this issue was of national interest is an indication of growing awareness of cycling by the general public. Most of the articles were fair and generally accurate.
A notable exception was an article that appeared in the
Even though I had heard allegations of personal connections between the management of Rolling Stone and some less stable members of our community, I contacted their editorial group by phone, reviewed the flagrant inaccuracies in the article, pointed out that the author had apparently acted irresponsibly, and asked if they would be interested in a written refutation. They said they would if I could get it to them in a week.
Lacking the ability to coordinate an official USCF statement in time, I wrote a personal letter [attached]. It attacked the central thesis of the article, that there had been "illicit doping" and pointed out the only thing about this controversy that could reasonably be considered scandalous was the failure of the International Olympic Committee and subsidiary bodies to take a stand on blood boosting.
In a follow-up telephone conversation, Rolling Stone representatives said that my three page letter was too long to print, but if I trimmed it down a lot they might run it. I pointed out that they had printed three very large pages full of lies overlain with large headlines and they were now inviting me to refute this in a few paragraphs. I impolitely refused.
I note that the cover of the offending issue featured the hauty visage of Mick Jagger in a large yellow jacket. Yellow seems to be a good color for journals such as Rolling Stone.
Letter to Rolling Stone magazine from Les Earnest
1985 February 1
Mr. Robert B. Wallace, Managing Editor
Rolling Stone Magazine
Dear Mr. Wallace:
As an officer of the U.S. Cycling Federation, I read with interest thee article on "Olympic Cheating" by Richard Cramer in the February 14 issue of Rolling Stone. As Chairman of the USCF Technical Commission, which oversees rule enforcement and disciplinary actions, I have collected and reviewed a large amount of information on the subject of the article and have reached quite different conclusions from those of the author. However, the things that I shall say here represent my personal views and not an official position of the USCF.
While the actions of some of our Olympic Team staff members were arguably unethical and were certainly stupid, the central thesis of the article - that certain cyclists engaged in "illicit doping" - is clearly false. Whether you call the process "blood doping," "blood packing," "blood boosting," or "induced erythrocythemia," it is a sleazy practice that is permissible under existing Olympic rules.
Mr. Cramer was apparently intent on justifying a headline about "An Olympic Scandal - How U.S. Medalists were doped to win." Even though he was fortunate enough to be given much of the key documentation in this case by a person who participated in part of the investigation, he failed to test the "facts" on which his erroneous conclusions were based. By failing to probe, he both preserved his preconceived notions and failed to discover that there really was an Olympic scandal that has been going on for at least a decade and that is still going strong. I will discuss the real scandal below.
The article states that:
“As of early 1984, Olympic policy in this country stated that blood doping was unacceptable under any condition.”
Having reviewed all available documentation, I find no evidence that such a policy existed at that time. In late 1983 the USOC declined to invest in a proposed research project involving blood boosting, but there is no evidence that they took a position about the practice itself. More to the point, there was, and still is, nothing in the written regulations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the USOC that takes a position on blood boosting. The article continues:
policy of the U.S. Olympic Committee Sports Medicine Council reads, 'The USOC
is opposed to doping in any form and will not condone its use by athletes or
its promotion by anyone connected with a
IOC regulations, which are followed by the USOC, are quite explicit about doping - they include an extensive list of prohibited substances and blood is not one of them. Therefore the quoted statement about "doping" is meaningless in this context.
USOC policies on doping are of interest to the national governing bodies of the
various sports, including the U.S. Cycling Federation, most athletic events in
The article quotes a “definition of doping” attributed to the Medical Commission of the IOC:
“Doping is the administration of or the use by a competing athlete of any substance foreign to the body or of any physiological substance taken in abnormal quantity or taken by an abnormal route of entry into the body, with the sole intention of increasing in an artificial and unfair manner his performance in competition.” [Emphasis added.]
Given that the author obtained that quotation from our files, I happen to know that it comes from page 10 of a book entitled Drugs and Athletic Performance by Melvin H. Williams, Ph.D. It does not appear in the written regulations of the IOC. It seems to be a report of one committee's opinion at some time in the past. As such, is not enforceable.
If the above statement had been enacted as a regulation, there likely would be endless speculation about the meaning of the word “abnormal” and of the vague phrase, “in an artificial and unfair manner.”
In summary, there is nothing on the record that substantiates the author's charge of “illicit doping.” This fact was not hidden. Several journalists who initially had less information than did Mr. Cramer managed to see through the smoke.
(Incidentally, having been contacted earlier by Mr. Cramer, I called him exactly three weeks ago to provide an update, including a review of the facts discussed above. He wasn't there, so I left a message. He did not return the call.)
The practice of blood boosting has been under investigation in medical circles for more that 20 years and allegedly has been used in the Olympics at least since 1976. While the extensive medical literature on the subject does not uniformly confirm that blood boosting improves performance, it is generally believed to be efficacious in endurance events such as distance running and swimming, cross country skiing, and certain cycling events.
difference between the apparently substantial work going on elsewhere in blood
boosting and that performed on the
Aside from their security failure, the people who arranged for clandestine needlework on the cyclists managed to bungle the project in other ways:
(1) they used transfusions instead of self-infusion of stored blood, which posed unacceptable risks to the athletes, and
(2) they did not transfuse enough blood to have measurably improved the athletes' performance.
Thus the athletes were exposed to risk without benefit.
A continuing Olympic scandal
While various international Olympic officials appear to have been uncomfortable about blood boosting technology for some time, they recognized that there were no reliable tests to detect it. What they should have done was to declare blood boosting to be against the rules and then used whatever enforcement mechanisms were available. Instead, they stuck their heads in the sand and waited for a test to appear.
Given that things not forbidden under the regulations are permitted, this stance has invited unhealthy, extensive experimentation for many years. That is the real Olympic scandal.
not wish to pretend that the U.S. Cycling Federation officialdom was blameless
in this matter. We too had our heads in the sand. Having recognized the
consequences of inaction, on
“A licensee who provides a rider with, or encourages the use of, or communicates consent to the use of [blood] boosting or a prohibited substance shall be subject to the same penalties as a rider who has tested positive for the use of a prohibited substance.”
The penalty is 30 days suspension for the first offense, 6 months for the second, and indefinite suspension for the third offense.
To my knowledge, the U.S. Cycling Federation is the only sports body in the world that has adopted regulations prohibiting blood boosting to date. I hope that others will follow suit, especially the International Olympic Committee and the international bodies governing the various endurance sports. I understand that the USOC will have this topic on the agenda of their House of Delegates meeting in February.
Incidentally, I am not so naive as to believe that simply passing a rule will end blood boosting in this country or elsewhere. It will, of course, deter the majority who follow the rules and those who are afraid of getting caught by direct evidence. By also making it clear to coaches and trainers that their jobs will be jeopardized by medical misconduct, we can remove the institutional support that this practice has enjoyed in the past. This should eliminate most of the problem until hoped-for testing procedures are developed.
Of course, whatever we do, there will still be a few determined individuals who will use rusty needles with whatever blood they can find, and they will get what they deserve.
The medical profession could help by publicly stating and enforcing tighter ethical guidelines for sports medicine. I believe that blood boosting should be excluded from ethical practice, but most medical authorities treat it as ethical on the grounds that the risk is not great when it is done properly.
As for Richard Cramer's article, it is an example of shoddy investigation and sleazy reporting and is unworthy of your publication. I suggest that the next issue of Rolling Stone carry an announcement on the cover in the same 36 point type as the last one saying,
We were wrong about that
I doubt that you have the guts, though.