Athletes' Cover Stories for Doping Vary

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Confronted with a positive steroid test, San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera employed a fake website and a phony cover story to deflect the consequences, the New York Daily News has reported. Major League Baseball found him out, and Cabrera remains suspended for 50 games for testing postive for a banned performance-enhancing substance.

    Cabrera’s ruse may have been distinctly elaborate. But over the years, elite athletes facing doping bans have come up with a long list of defenses – unusual, dubious and even preposterous. Here, from court records and interviews, are some remarkable ones.

    Doctor’s orders. U.S. sprinter Kelli White won two gold medals at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, but she tested positive for the stimulant modafinil.

    With the aid of Victor Conte, founder of the BALCO steroid lab, White said she created a cover story. White claimed she had suffered for years from the sleep disorder narcolepsy and had been prescribed modafinil. Conte even arranged for a doctor to vouch for White’s diagnosis. White's story crumbled, and she later confessed and was suspended from track.

    The morning-after pill. In 2002, bicycle racer Tammy Thomas tested positive for the use of the designer steroid norbolethone and was banned from cycling. But she disputed the ban, saying that her use of contraceptives had caused a false positive test. In 2003 she repeated her denials before a federal grand jury. 

    "Actually, they never found norbolethone in my system," she testified at one point. "What they found was alleged metabolites." She was convicted of perjury and sentenced to house arrest.

    Vitamin B-12. At a 2005 congressional hearing, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro wagged his finger at lawmakers and denied using banned drugs. That summer he tested positive for steroids.

    Palmeiro denied wrongdoing, and blamed the positive test on an injection of vitamin B-12 provided by teammate Miguel Tejada. Tejada told congressional investigators he had never used banned drugs and didn’t know any other players who had, either. Palmeiro was suspended. Tejada pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and was put on probation.

    Tainted meat. When cycling champion Alberto Contador tested positive in 2010 for the banned drug clenbuterol, the cyclist blamed a steak dinner. He said the meat must have been cut from a cow that had been dosed with the substance. After two years of appeals, the doping charges were upheld, and he was stripped of his Tour de France title.

    A vanished twin. In 2005, tests showed cyclist Tyler Hamilton had undergone a blood transfusion – a banned method of boosting endurance by increasing the number of red blood cells in an athlete's system.

    Hamilton denied wrongdoing, blaming the test result on a twin sibling he had never known. As the New York Times summarized the defense, Hamilton said he had “a twin that died in utero but, before dying, contributed some blood cells to him during fetal life. And those cells remained in his body, producing blood that matched the dead twin and not Hamilton.”

    Hamilton was suspended anyway. In 2011, he told the television show “60 Minutes” that he had repeatedly used banned drugs during his cycling career. He also implicated cycling great Lance Armstrong in the use of banned drugs.

    Sabotaged by the masseur. Elite track coach Trevor Graham contended that sprinter Justin Gatlin was deliberately dosed with steroids after a 2006 race in Kansas. Graham claimed that Gatlin’s former masseur rubbed a mysterious cream into the runner’s groin area. The masseur was angry because Gatlin had fired him and the cream triggered the positive test, Graham claimed. 

    Gatlin was banned for four years. In a BALCO-related prosecution, Graham was convicted of lying to federal investigators about distributing steroids to his runners and put on house arrest.

    Somebody else’s urine. In their 2003 raid on the BALCO steroids lab in Burlingame, federal investigators found reports indicating that Giants slugger Barry Bonds had tested positive for steroids in a series of private tests. Bonds’ trainer, Greg Anderson, had delivered the urine samples to BALCO for the private tests, according to evidence in the case.

    After Bonds was indicted on charges of lying to a federal grand jury about steroids, his lawyers asked the  judge to forbid any mention of the private steroid tests. The only way to prove that the urine belonged to Bonds and not somebody else was to question Anderson, the trainer, the defense lawyers said. Anderson, who had  pleaded guilty to steroid-dealing in a separate case, refused to testify against Bonds and served more than a year in prison for contempt instead.

    The judge threw out the test results as Bonds' lawyers requested. The government failed to convict Bonds  on charges of lying about his use of steroids, although the jury found the slugger guilty of obstruction of justice.

    View this story on California Watch

    This story was produced by California Watch, a part of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Learn more at www.californiawatch.org.