Don Catlin, founder of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory and a regarded authority on performance-enhancing drug testing, found his decade-old practices under scrutiny Tuesday as a Sports Illustrated article about Lance Armstrong suggests he was complicit in covering up positive tests during the 1990s.
In 2003, former USOC anti-doping chief Wade Exum turned over more than 30,000 pages to Sports Illustrated documenting several athletes, including 19 Olympic medalists, that had been allowed to compete at various Olympic Games from 1984 to 2000 despite having earlier failed drug tests. Exum resigned in June 2000 in protest; Catlin was part of the USOC’s anti-doping committee during Exum’s tenure.
Based upon minutes from USOC anti-doping committee meetings during 1999 and 2000, Sports Illustrated claims the notes reveal that USOC officials conferred on ways to unofficially test athletes for performance-enhancing drugs in order to prevent positive results during Olympic competition.
Catlin, a one-time member of the USOC’s anti-doping committee, is also quoted in the Sports Illustrated story from a 2000 meeting regarding the use of his carbon isotope ratio (CIR) testosterone testing method before the 2000 Sydney Games. After USOC committee chair Baaron Pittenger said the anti-doping panel could handle the CIR “in the same way we’re handling marijuana in terms of notifying the athletes.” Catlin is quoted as replying, “just don’t connect the CIR result to the athlete. Do it as a research experience.”
Catlin told Sports Illustrated he has no recollection of the discussion. He issued a brief response Tuesday, saying that without materials referred to in the Sports Illustrated story, “I do not have the context to provide appropriate comment at this time.”
The Sports Illustrated article reports that Armstrong’s urine samples tested over the then-allowed 6:1 testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio three times between 1990 and 2000. Armstrong’s three abnormal readings were 9:1, in June 1993; 7.6:1 in July 1994; and 6.5:1 in June 1996. The World Anti-Doping Agency lowered the abnormal T/E ratio to 4:1 in 2005; most people have a ratio of about 1:1 testosterone to epitestosterone in their urine.
Sports Illustrated reports that in 1999 USA Cycling asked Catlin for the testosterone-epitestosterone ratios for a cyclist identified only by his drug-testing code numbers. (A source with knowledge of the request told Sports Illustrated that the cyclist was Armstrong.) Catlin replied in a May 1999 letter providing details from several tests, including Armstrong’s suspicious urine samples, claiming that he had tried unsuccessfully to confirm the test results from 1993 and 1999.
When Sports Illustrated read his 1999 letter back to him earlier this month, Catlin said he’d had “no clue” in 1999 which samples belonged to Armstrong, as the athlete in question was identified solely by code number in correspondence between USA Cycling. He also acknowledged to Sports Illustrated that the data was unusual, admitting that the elevated T/E ratios detailed in the letter were “very strange” and describing a failed T/E ratio confirmation as a “once-in-a-blue-moon” occurrence.
Catlin said Tuesday that he does not have the letter in question, adding, “Without (the letters) and without any of the data from that time period, it is not possible to provide any insight into the situation or to provide specifics on any of the analysis performed. In general, confirmations that don’t succeed simply don’t meet the numerous, strict requirements of T/E confirmation Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). I no longer have access to any of the data or files from that era. Any records or data on the matter belong to the Federation, the USOC and the IOC.”