Victor Conte on Boxing, USADA, Steroids, Blood-Doping, EPO
I’m now a part of the anti-doping movement. I’m trying to help those at WADA [The World Anti-Doping Agency,] and, USADA [The United States Anti-Doping Agency] to develop more effective anti-doping policies and procedures. And that’s what I’m doing now, and I’m very outspoken about it.
The difference is that here is what people fail to realize, and that’s that from 1984, which is when I founded BALCO, and until the year 2000 — so, for 16 years — I did things the right way. The only thing that I did was to do comprehensive blood and urine testing of athletes, and to develop individualized nutrition programs for them.
But it got to a point, for me — and this doesn’t make it right, because it was certainly wrong, and it was certainly a mistake — but I had gotten to a point where I thought differently. I had gotten to a point when I realized that Olympic officials and those that control major league football and baseball were enabling, harboring, and, promoting this culture of drug use in sport. And I made the bad decision to join that culture. It was a huge mistake, and I wish now that I had never done it.
That point was in 2000, and, of course, I did that for the years 2000, 2001, 2002, and, 2003. So, for four years, I was about helping athletes to circumvent these testing policies. Once BALCO was raided, I realized how I had been reckless, and that I had put many others at risk — Victor Conte.
FanHouse caught up with former BALCO founder, Victor Conte, to get his view on why a fighter would benefit from steroids or EPO, as well as his explanation as to how a competitor’s illicit drug use can escape detection by not only by the sport’s current drug-testing system, but, also, that employed, for the first time in boxing history, by The United States Anti-Doping Agency for the May 1 clash between Floyd Mayweather and Shane Mosley.
As a refresher, USADA tested Mayweather for both blood and urine on March 22, April 1, April 13 and then on the night directly after the fight. Mayweather reportedly provided urine only on April 3, April 6, April 21 and April 24.
Meanwhile, Mosley provided both blood and urine on March 23, March 31, April 12 and directly after the bout on fight night. Mosley supplied urine on April 3, April 6, April 21 and April 24.
FanHouse: Can we begin with the concern for EPO in boxing?
Victor Conte: Well, you’re specifically asking about the significance of the phrase, ’19 hours.’ And yes, EPO will clear the system in less than a day. But that number is a mean average — the 19 hours.
So what that means is that you only have to do an injection of EPO to maintain the intial stage. When we first started using the drug, it the initial stage was called, ‘The corrective phase.’ And that when typically you do it three times a week for two weeks.
And you monitor your hermaticrit — the percentage of red blood cells — and then, you re-test, and if you hit the mark, then you thereafter can go to the second phase, which they call ‘The maintainence phase.’ As you know, there’s the uses of EPO for cancer patients and kidney failure patients and HIV patients.
Can you please continue to clarify what’s going on here with this, and what you’re getting at?
Okay, so, now, here is what typically these athletes can do. They’re sophisticated. They will use EPO, and let’s just say that their normal hermaticrit starts out within a boxer. Say he starts out with a baseline hermaticrit of 44 percent. After using EPO, for two weeks, it goes to 52 percent.
What do those numbers mean?
That means that you have your total whole blood volume is approximately 44 percent red bood cells and 56 percent serum, which is the fluid portion of blood. When you produce more red blood cells, then the percentage of the red blood cells compared to the total whole blood volume becomes higher.
So you have more red blood cells and oxygen molecules which attaches to hemogloein on the red blood cells, and that’s what fuels and carries your nutrients to the rest of your tissues. You will absolutely have great recovery, and you will have far better oxygen uptake and utilization.
It will really serve you in the later rounds. However, this is important to understand. When they test the blood, they look at the percentage.
Can you provide me with an example of that type of examination or testing of the blood?
As an example, with cyclists, for example, Tour De France cyclists. They test the blood, and if it comes back higher than 50 percent on the side of the red blood cells, they don’t ban them, but they suspend them for two weeks for what they call ‘Health concerns.’
Okay? So you don’t want your baseline hermaticrit to be over 50 percent. They like to target it and keep it at 49 percent. Increasing it from 44-to-49 percent, however, will certainly increase your performance.
Okay, so, can you please apply that to boxing?
So let’s back up, hypothetically, okay, to Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather when they were signing or negotiating for their fight, or in the case of the Mayweather-Shane Mosley fight.
If somebody were advising them, they could have used EPO throughout for two weeks, if someone were advising them on how to do it, just like the cyclists do, and they could have previously extracted some of these red blood cells and put them in the refridgerator.
Okay? So then, five weeks out from the fight, coming in, they can’t use EPO, because they’re being randomly tested and that might be discovered even though the EPO only stays within your system for a day.
But you can re-infuse your own red blood cells. And if you are shown how to re-infuse your red blood cells, they can’t detect that.
But they can detect the percentage increase, correct?
But they can detect the percentage, exactly.
If you’re re-infusing the blood and that percentage starts to drop down, you know, as you’re preparing and training for the fight, then you can just re-infuse some of their previously withdrawn red blood cells by intravenous injection.
They can re-infuse that and they can keep it at a steady level of 49 percent all the way up to the fight. So now, that’s all undetectable by USADA.
Is that called blood-doping?
That’s called blood-doping.
What different types of EPO are there?
Well, you know, there are a number of them. Do you mean brands or are you talking about the different generations?
I mean the ones that would be most applicable to the situation in which it would likely be used to achieve the effects that a boxer might want to achieve?
Well, let me explain something, because I see where you’re going with your questions here. And, let me say this. That, the reason that I don’t believe that this testing that the United States Anti-Doping Agency did for the Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley fight was truly random…
And I heard over, and over, and over, that it was going to be, ‘Random, random, random.’ But that is not random when you start five weeks out from a fight, and then you do blood tests until three weeks out from a fight, testing for a couple of weeks, and then you have no blood testing for a final 19 or 18 days.
I know that the threat is there of them blood testing at any time, and that that means that it could be random, but in this particular case, in the end, it really wasn’t. Now, you started out by asking ‘What is it that a boxer could do?’
Yes, I mean, what desired effect could a boxer get out of this?
Here’s something that you have to realize. Let’s take an Olympic athlete that is subject to this USADA-type of testing, and they’re preparing for a competitive season that leads to the Olympic games — whether you’re an Olympic track athlete, a swimmer, boxer, whatever.
So that’s going to be in an August time-frame, of, let’s say, for preparation for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The year before, October, November, December, January, during those months, they can use anabolic steroids in conjunction with an intense weight training program.
And they can develop an explosive strength and speed base. That’s going to serve them nine months later at the Olympic games. So, in other words, if it’s before that fight, all that they had to do before the start of the testing — I believe on March 22 for a May 1 fight?
They could have been using testosterone for three months before that date, and the benefits would carry over that five weeks until the fight.
And, in fact, what people don’t understand, and we’ll talk specifically about anabolic steroids, now, is that you perform far better when you’re a couple of weeks off of steroids than you do when you’re on steroids.
Why is that?
The reason is that steroids work through a process called ‘Cell-voluminaztion.’ So it makes you pumped, and you give yourself more nutrients and fluids inside of the cells. And it helps you to grow and it helps you to become stronger, but it also makes you tight. You lack in flexibility and speed.
If you taper off of steroids for two weeks, you can regain a normal water balance and you are faster and more powerful than ever. So, what could have happened is that for two months, let’s say, before this March 22 date they used with Mayweather and Mosley, a boxer could have used anabolic steroids.
This is hypothetical here. And then, they go off of them. Well, then you’re still, believe me, the benefits of using two months of testosterone or anabolic steroids are still going to be there five weeks later. You are going to retain a lot of the strength and the speed from using the steroids.
So that’s a way that you can beat the testing?
You can totally beat the testing, and it’s not random because it starts five weeks out from the fight. Random is 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s not five weeks before a fight.
When I hear this, ‘Random, random, random,’ well, what about the five weeks before the USADA testing began when either fighter could have been using anabolic steroids?