Well Well... Looks like Bill loves his ego!
06-26-2003 04:10 PM
Well Well... Looks like Bill loves his ego!
Let me know your thoughts
William Llewellyn in ESPN Magazine
By Shaun Assael Monday, June 23 Updated: June 23 11:10 AM ET
For William Llewellyn, it's simply The Book. He won't show you the title, but between its cracked leather covers is the collected research on nearly every steroid known to science. "There are more than 500 steroids in here," he says, flipping through the pages to make his point. "All the drug tests in the world can maybe find 50."
This story appears in the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine, on newstands this week. To get more from The Magazine, check out ESPNMag.com. ESPNMag.com Subscribe to The Mag
The 29-year-old supplement maker, whose knowledge of chemistry is self-taught, doesn't actually manufacture the steroids in the book. For one thing, most of them are highly experimental and have never been produced commercially. For another, they're illegal, and he's had enough trouble with the law. When he was 16, cops showed up at his house with handcuffs to bust him for computer hacking. He copped a plea, and after promising to find a new hobby, hit the gym. Now, 13 years and some serious steroid use later, he's trying to strike it rich in a great race to make the perfect -- and perfectly legal -- strength pill. From a nondescript office in Jupiter, Fla., he and his wife run Molecular Nutrition, a fledgling company that sells his custom-label supplements to muscle-mad America.
About 2,700 miles away, in Los Angeles, Don Catlin reaches for his own book, Organic Chemical Drugs and Their Synonyms. "There aren't many things in here you're going to get past me," he says. The 65-year-old doctor with the gentle smile is America's foremost steroid hunter. It's an unorthodox job that requires an equally unorthodox set of skills. One moment he's a scientist rushing to the UCLA Biomedical Library in his silver Porsche; the next he's rollerblading through Venice Beach to eavesdrop on bodybuilders. He can be a spymaster, calling in the CIA or DEA to help trace the origins of a mysterious drug. Or he can be a bare-knuckled politician, arguing that the sports world hasn't invested enough in catching the bad guys.
Catlin and Llewellyn don't know each other, nor do they easily fit the roles of hunter and hunted. Llewellyn makes his pills for self-improvement junkies who read muscle magazines. He doesn't watch sports and can't tell you who's leading any title chase. Catlin, on the other hand, couldn't care less about gym jockeys looking to fill out an Armani suit. He's too busy keeping tabs on the athletes who compete for his three clients -- the NFL, NCAA and U.S. Olympic Committee -- and the roughly 200 substances they've banned.
But the two men do circle each other, locked in an ever-evolving chemical cold war. Llewellyn represents a pill-pushing culture in which muscle-building drugs are increasingly viewed as an inevitable part of competition. He thinks Catlin is fighting a losing battle, and says he can create a hundred designer steroids that the doctor can't find. Maybe so. But Catlin believes that athletes who take those drugs are cheating. And catching the cheats is his life's work.
Theirs is a cat-and-mouse struggle at a molecular level, fought over the bodies of superstars. Ken Caminiti's disclosure that steroids fueled his 1996 MVP season put the issue out in the open again. Now, guessing which buff baller is on the juice is as much a part of the national pastime as scoring a 6-4-3 double play. It's why Barry Bonds is forever defending himself. Why a corked bat has created such a slippery slope for Sammy Sosa . And why sports has become an arena for chemists.
The UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory sits on the outskirts of Santa Monica. We'll keep the precise location a secret for the same reason Catlin keeps its smoked-glass doors locked: A lot of people wish they could get their hands on what's inside.
It's here, within the warren of interlocking offices crammed with buzzing incubators, centrifuges and scanners, that Catlin and his staff of 50 shape the way history will regard some of the biggest names and records in sports.
Catlin ambles around the offices with the air of a family doctor, which is what he was until the Army hired him to help treat Vietnam vets hooked on heroin. That raised his profile in drug-treatment circles, which led UCLA to hire him in 1972. A decade later, he opened the nation's first Olympic analysis lab.
What stands out most about Catlin is how acutely aware he is of the lives he influences. Yes, his work allows cyclist Lance Armstrong and track star Marion Jones to look skeptics in the eye and say they've never failed a drug test. But it also underscores how politicized drug testing has become. This April, long-hidden records surfaced that showed Carl Lewis had failed three of Catlin's tests before the 1988 Summer Games. Catlin didn't leak the results; they came from a disgruntled ex-Olympic official who felt the secret had been kept long enough. Never mind that the tiny traces of ephedra in Lewis' system were insignificant compared with the powerful steroids that jacked up his Canadian foe, Ben Johnson -- or that those levels wouldn't have prevented Lewis from competing today. Some critics are calling for Lewis to give up the 100-meter gold medal he inherited when Johnson was stripped. "It's been blown all out of proportion," Catlin says with evident frustration.
When he's not in his lab, Catlin spends a lot of time at the library, looking through journals to see which new drugs are in the pipeline. In the early winter of 2001, those journals pointed to the emergence of a more potent version of EPO, the blood-doping drug that made its appearance at the 2000 Summer Games. The new drug, darbepoetin, was a breakthrough in cancer treatment, helping patients bounce back from chemotherapy by spurring the production of red blood cells. Catlin realized it would also help Olympians boost their endurance. And with the Salt Lake City Games a year away, he didn't have a test for it.
When the doctor arrived in Utah in February 2002, the smart money wasn't on him finding one. Bad bet. In 11 months of around-the-clock work, he and his staff had created a test for darbe. Then they moved a million dollars' worth of machines to Salt Lake to put it in play. While the world was riveted by Skategate, Catlin quietly examined more than 1,200 blood samples. It took until the last day of competition, but he found what he was looking for. Three cross-country skiers with eight medals among them -- Spain's Johann Muehlegg and Russia's Larissa Lazutina and Olga Danilova -- were snared. (Muehlegg and Lazutina each had to give back a gold; Danilova tested positive after a nonmedal performance.) The finding set off a diplomatic firestorm that included Russian threats of boycotting the closing ceremonies. "If the games were a month earlier, we wouldn't have made it," Catlin says, still savoring the moment. "It was that close."
The trouble with policing steroids in a wired world is that any musclehead with a credit card can buy them online. In a recent investigation, a reporter at The Fort Wayne News Sentinel purchased equipoise, a veterinary version of the controlled steroid boldenone, from a web pharmacy based in Mexico and incorporated in the Bahamas. Hundreds of foreign-based pharmacies sell drugs online without prescriptions.
But you don't need to break the law to get a little boldenone. Scores of sites devoted to bodybuilding sell legal supplements called steroid precursors, which release steroids when they're metabolized. One of the best sellers is a derivative of boldenone called Boldione, which Llewellyn peddles on sites like discountanabolics.com, as well as his own molecularnutrition.net. "My customer is the nonprofessional athlete," he says as the phone rings. Seconds later, he's scribbling an order from someone at a military base.
Catlin and Llewellyn agree on some things, sharing a grudging respect for each other's ingenuity. Where they disagree is in describing what Llewellyn sells. He doesn't call his pills drugs -- and, much to Catlin's irritation, neither does Congress. Nine years ago, a law was passed that allowed supplement makers to circumvent the strict rules governing prescription drugs if they used ingredients that come from nature. You know, stuff like ginseng and herbs. No one imagined that would also include steroids, which Congress had classified as controlled substances a few years earlier.
Unfortunately, that was before an enterprising chemist named Patrick Arnold discovered that tree bark contains androstenedione, a chemical that the human body makes naturally and converts into testosterone. He began marketing it as Andro in 1996. A few years later, the disclosure that Mark McGwire was a user set off a stampede.
For Llewellyn, it was more than a passing storm. "It changed my life," he says. Llewellyn has an agile mind, and he's spent a lot of years foolishly trying to prove it. As a 140-pound teen on Long Island, he passed his days in a dark room with only the cathode glow of a computer monitor to guide him as he hacked into the local phone company's network to make international calls. After being charged with seven counts of misdemeanor theft of service, he redirected his energy toward bodybuilding, quickly adding 20 pounds of muscle "by taking every steroid in the book."
Even with the extra bulk, Llewellyn was an average-looking guy with an above-average interest in why he couldn't get bigger. Then he landed a job with a website that marketed supplements, giving phone consultations for as much as $200 an hour. Often he found himself being asked for advice on steroids, which he assumed could only be bought illegally. The debut of Andro showed him otherwise.
Llewellyn didn't have to go far to find a steroid of his own to sell. He stumbled upon it in a library at Stony Brook (N.Y.) University, 15 minutes from his home. Actually, what he found was a 1955 study titled "Identification of C19 Steroids in Bovine Feces." The report was intended to help farmers grow beefier cows, but it made Llewellyn's heart race. One of the steroids the researchers found in the dung was boldione. "When I saw that, I ran home jumping," he says.
Recreating the boldione molecule was easy. All he had to do was send its chemical name to a lab that could produce it as powder. But finding that lab was difficult. The $17 billion worth of supplements that get sold every year are mostly made in China, and it took Llewellyn three months to find a place that would handle his request. Once he got a sample back, he sent it to a lab in Utah to test its purity. After getting the okay, he sent $20,000 to China for 10 kilograms, and spent another $4,000 to have it poured into pills by an American manufacturing plant that once again tested it for quality. This year, Llewellyn hopes to break the 100,000-bottle mark in sales -- at $60 a bottle.
Ask Catlin about supplements, and his face crinkles. Since 1999, hundreds of hopefuls around the world have failed drug tests as a result of two other steroid precursors, 19-norandrostenedione and 19-norandrostenediol, that turn into the steroid nandrolone. In the U.S., a quarter of the 32 sanctions that have resulted from Catlin's tests involved nandrolone -- including one that dashed the medal hopes of New Jersey bobsledder Pavle Jovanovic, who left Salt Lake protesting his innocence. He claims he was done in by a lab that failed to clean the machines it used, causing traces of nandrolone to seep into the protein pills he took. "They want to seem like they're winning the war on drugs," Jovanovic says. "But the only ones getting busted are innocent kids."
Jovanovic's attorney, Howard Jacobs, is now representing a wheelchair-bound paralympian whose doctor prescribed hormones for her, and an Olympic-caliber swimmer who had four nanograms of nandrolone in his system -- two nanograms above the legal limit, which many critics consider absurdly low. "It's ridiculous," Jacobs says.
The problem for Catlin is that what's legal in life isn't always legal in sports, and he has to plug the loopholes. At best, he considers this a nuisance. At worst, it's a dangerous distraction from the more urgent work at hand. He says when he first saw Andro, "I knew it was a weak steroid. What surprised me was that a baseball player would be taking it, and everyone else would get so excited by that. You have to take a huge amount to do yourself any good."
But that didn't stop it from appearing in Olympic circles. "It took us six months to find a test for Andro," Catlin continues, glancing up at the gym-size clock on his wall. "Would I do it again? I don't know. You only have so much time. You have to choose your priorities."
On June 19, the American Medical Association called for a legal ban on steroid precursors like boldione and seven other pills Llewellyn sells.
The recommendation comes as the House of Representatives is considering a bill, co-sponsored by Nebraska congressman and former Cornhuskers football coach Tom Osborne, that would close the natural substance loophole in the supplement law. But as both Catlin and Llewellyn will tell you, that still won't address what's really going on behind the scenes in big-time sports.
Back in Florida, Llewellyn slides a tray out from under his Lucite desk. A half-dozen glassine envelopes with white powders lie inside. "These are designer steroids I've had made for myself, just fooling around," he says.
Actually, the term designer steroid is something of a misnomer. No one actually "designs" them anymore. What they do is dredge up designs that were created in the 1950s and '60s, when the major drug companies were pumping out research on the medical uses of synthetic steroids. Finding the designs isn't hard, assuming you know your way around a library. But knowing how those steroids break down in the body, and whether the residue will show up on a drug test, is where the underground artistry comes in. Says Llewellyn: "If I wanted to cross the line -- which I don't -- I know exactly which ones to make."
A steroid leaves a kind of vapor stream in the body, littered with residue from digested molecules, called metabolites. Last spring, Catlin spied meta- bolites he'd never seen before in a urine sample from Tammy Thomas, a beefed-up U.S. cyclist who'd been the subject of rumors since taking silver at the 2001 world championships. When Catlin showed his findings to several chemists on his staff, all agreed the metabolites resembled norethandrolone, a controlled steroid not covered by the supplement loophole. But the match wasn't perfect.
Catlin did what he usually does when he's stumped; he went to the library to nose around old studies. There he learned that Wyeth Labs of New Jersey had conducted clinical trials in the '60s with undersized men to test a related steroid that was never released -- norbolethone. The lab sent Catlin a sample, and he ran it through his scanners. "I'll be damned," he thought. He'd found his mystery drug. Thomas was banned from cycling for life.
This March, The Washington Post reported that the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois was looking into whether Patrick Arnold, the Andro pioneer with his own factory in Seymour, Ill., supplied Thomas with the norbolethone. Arnold denies it. "I've made things for personal curiosity before, years in the past," he told the Post. "I'm not sure if that was one of them or not." (A spokesman for the prosecutor's office declined comment.)
Llewellyn has spent hours in chat rooms arguing with Arnold, mainly about who's smarter. He sees himself as the up-and-comer, and thinks Arnold gets too much credit for his research. But he also believes Arnold would never imperil a successful business by selling an illegal drug. "Anyone with access to a manufacturing plant and money could have had that norbolethone made," Llewellyn says.
And that's what frustrates Catlin. For all of his smarts, he can't just throw on a trench coat and hop a flight to China to track down the source of a steroid. He says he has a contact in the CIA with whom he's working on a case about a steroid smuggling ring. "But," he adds, "there's nobody I can go to on a daily basis and say, 'Here, investigate this.'"
With so many designer steroids lurking on dusty library shelves, it's surprising that the only pro league using Catlin is the NFL. The NBA refuses to say which lab it uses; the NHL doesn't even test its players. MLB, which is battling a perception that its "biggest" stars didn't get that way naturally, had a perfect opportunity to send a strong message when it began testing this spring. But instead of asking Catlin to supervise the program, it picked a lab used by the federal government for your basic workplace drug screens. "Our goal is to have accurate tests," says Rob Manfred, baseball's executive VP for labor relations, "not to have someone playing detective."
Catlin is diplomatic when asked about the snub: "These things take time." But at 65, he knows time isn't on his side. It took him 10 years to find a test to curb one of the most flagrant abuses in sports -- athletes who visit private labs to monitor their own steroid-fueled testosterone levels and keep them within the high range of normal. On more than a few occasions, Catlin has heard a player insist he came by those levels naturally, and there was nothing the doctor could do to disprove it. That is, until he learned of a French chemist who'd found a way to thwart a black market in synthetic spices by using carbon atoms to tell the fake stuff from the real thing. Catlin ordered his staff to design a similar test for testosterone. They delivered in 1996. "We closed a loophole," he says. "But it took forever."
Catlin has many battles left. There's an underground market in fake urine and even prosthetic penises to deliver it. And there's human growth hormone, the elephant in the room that no one's talking about. Even though it's on the IOC's banned substance list, it's hard to screen because it's made naturally by the pituitary gland. A team of British researchers from Southampton University, in the sixth year of a 10-year project, recently reported encouraging results, raising hopes that a test may be available for the 2004 Summer Games. But such breakthroughs are few and far between. "Sports is not generous," Catlin says. "The amount of funding we get compared with the size of the problem is pitiful." In fact, for all its anti-drug talk, the U.S. is one of the cheapest nations in the world when it comes to backing this particular fight. Dick Pound, the Canadian head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, recently blasted the Bush administration for failing to pay $1 million in dues -- part of a shortfall that has left the agency with just a quarter of its $21 million budget. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency works on a shoestring of $7 million. "Sometimes I wonder," says Catlin, "if the people I work for don't care, why should I?"
The simple answer is that he hates to lose. The slightly more honest one is that he still loves the thrill of the chase -- of finding a test for a drug that no one knows about, and unveiling it in dramatic fashion, as he did in Salt Lake. But most of all, he's not yet ready to walk away and leave his job to someone who, well, just thinks of it as a job. "It takes people to do this work, not machines," Catlin says. "I respect everyone on the other side of the street, not for their ethics but for their ingenuity. You can't hire a machine to think like the bad guys."
Then again, Llewellyn doesn't think of himself as a bad guy. "The serious athlete doesn't consider my supplements an alternative to steroids," he says. "The 30-year-old guy in the gym does." In a world of botox and breast implants, he clearly sees himself in the self-improvement business.
Like Llewellyn, Catlin doesn't watch much sports. It's an occupational hazard that comes from spending all his time obsessing about what athletes are taking, not what they're doing. But it also leaves both men at a loss to answer the real question raised by their dueling efforts -- a question the rest of us must answer for ourselves.
Just how improved do we want our athletes to be?
This article appears in the July 7 issue of ESPN The Magazine
06-26-2003 04:12 PM
Look at his website, who else does it disgust?
"But with all his publicity, William's "underground" status is now impossible to maintain so he can't come close to handling the overwhelming number of requests for his "services". "
Or Look at how he's marketing it to teens...
So basically, whether you want to be the next Dorian Yates or Maurice Greene . . .
William's incredible anabolic stack will slash 1,000 miles off your "journey",
which ever road to fame you want to take!"
"Now the choice is up to you! 12 weeks from now you can be the same person you are today . . . or you can be a new, improved version of yourself! Bigger, more muscular, faster, stronger, more explosive! Finally you'll start to make a name for yourself, to fulfill your destiny in whatever sport you choose!
So what on earth are you waiting for . . . because the "studs" William personally coaches aren't waiting to be "told twice" . . . they're already "gettin paid"! "
Pray there's a future for the PH market.
06-26-2003 05:51 PM
what would this insdustry be if everyone involved didn't get off on tooting their own horn from here until next Christmas?
.... oh yeah, an honest one
thanks for the article bro
06-26-2003 05:58 PM
06-26-2003 06:41 PM
This Catlin guy should just die.
06-27-2003 08:23 AM
That's silly. There's nothing wrong with what he's doing -- which is the job he's paid to do. As long as they test for drugs in sports, someone like him will have a job. Originally posted by Iron Warrior This Catlin guy should just die.
Bill is the one everyone should be angry at. He gave the politicians a ton of ammo for a little publicity. what a douche
06-27-2003 08:37 AM
WTF is wrong with Bill. hrs gonna put himself and everyone else out of buisiness.
06-27-2003 12:34 PM
Dio hit it on the head... Catlin is doing his job, Bill is the person marketing to teens and sinking the PH ship faster.
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