Victor Conte was on XTRA 1360 with Josh Rosenberg and Mark Ziegler (SDUT) a few weeks back. I had it on my iPod but hadn't gotten around to listening to it. Being sick of listening to people talk about the Chargers, I thought it might make an interesting listen. If you don't know, Victor Conte was the CEO of BALCO and was responsible for supplying world class level athletes such as Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Jason Giambi, and Bill Romanowski with Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). BALCO was busted by the feds a few years back and the grand jury testimonies and other fall out from that investigation has led to a lot of the current fervor about PEDs, especially in baseball.
I don't know what you think about Conte, I personally figured him to be a a bit of a money hungry mad scientist who was willing to sacrifice the purity of sport for a few bucks and some glory. The interview with the XTRA guys shed a bit of a different light on him. The interview itself is about 20 minutes long, and I've summarized it below.
Josh and Mark interview Victor Conte on XTRA 1360 (mp3)
- If we go back to the early days of BALCO, what was the initial incentive for distributing steroids? I had worked with world class athletes since 1984 and was not involved in PEDs at all. In 1990 I learned that there were some positive drug cover ups in the Seoul Olympics. I was also working with an American Olympic shot putter who had tested positive at the 1992 Olympic trials and I was told by an Official with US track and field that the tests were covered up. It lead me to realize that this behavior was being condone and promoted and harbored by the Olympics and baseball and football and other professional sports.
- At that time I made the decision, which I want to clarify was a mistake, to participate in the culture and not be a by-stander. (see here for a quick history of the BALCO scandal)
- Every time you are quoted in one of my stories, I always get feedback from people asking me why am I talking to this ex-con who did time. I always say that Victor Conte is the one guy who is always 100% candid and is a straight shooter. What has compelled you to be as candid as you have been, why campaign for clean sport? In 2004 when the grand jury testimonies were being leaked, I made the decision to tell the truth and to do it for the right reasons. Not in exchange for leniency or anything like that. If I wanted credibility, I needed to do it for the right reasons. If my message was to be heard, I needed credibility. My message then and now to the parents of young athletes is that this culture exists and is being harbored by those who make money off these sports. I have seen too many kids who have invested 10 years of their life in trying to make an Olympic team or get a scholarship and they are informed that in order to get to the next level, they need to take these little blue pills in order to be competitive. I have lots of regrets and feel very sorry for what I did and want to move forward with making positive change.
- Are you now skeptical whenever you see some of the amazing times on the track or pool or in any other sport? Absolutely, and it starts with the ineptness of the anti-doping policies and procedures. If you don't test repeatedly in the off-season and have transparency it can't be effective. We know this: anabolic steroids work, it will make a female sprinter 4-5 meters faster and a male sprinter 2-3 meters faster. You can't compete at that level without it. Once you get to that point, the overwhelming majority Olympic level athletes in the finals of their event used some sort of PED or Performance Enhancing method during their preparation.
- How big a problem do you think PEDs are in the NFL today? It is a massive problem. During the congressional hearings, the NFL executives pulled the wool over the congressmen's eyes. They essentially got a free pass. They don't do sufficient testing in the off-season when the players really use the drugs. There are 60 stimulants on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list, the NFL has 10. So that means you have a list of 50 effective stimulants you can take and you won't have any issues. The front door to the barn might be closed, but the side doors and back doors are wide open.
- You have a book coming about about BALCO, Bonds, Marion Jones and what can be done to save sports. Are you optimistic that we actually save sport? There are lots of things you can do, from focused testing on the elite athletes more often. Test the top 50 twice a year and the top 20 5 times, and go to the athlete's home soil, like in the Caribbean, then you might have a chance at reducing the use. Right now track and field athletes are really only tested while the European track circuit is going and they are not being tested at all during the October thru February time frames, you're going to have athletes using drugs because they can.
- What do you think about forgiveness for athletes who are caught? Forgiveness is very important. I've tried to lead the way by asking for forgiveness myself. When a guy like Giambi comes out and admits to it, it allows him to move past it. On the other hand, take someone like Marion Jones, she lies and eventually after years and years has to admit to it. Right now I'm going to give a deposition in a defamation lawsuit Shane Mosley has against me. This is no more than Marion Jones part 2. She sued me for $25 million, we now know who is telling the truth. I think America and the world at large will forgive if you come completely clean.
- Give me the top 5 dirtiest sports. #1 Cycling, #2 Track and Field , #3 Football, #4 Baseball, #5 Hockey.
- Cleanest Sports? It would have to be a sport that doesn't rely on brute strength and isn't a grind. It is hard for baseball players to hold up over a 162 games. Maybe Rowing?
- How accurate was the book, The Game of Shadows? I've said before that that those authors have fabrication-itis. If anyone followed up some of the references you would see that they don't actually support the statements.
- How do you spend a typical day now? I continue to work with world class athletes. Boxers and baseball players. I'm working with some MMA and track and field athletes.
- Is it harder trying to do it clean? What people fail to understand is that steroids don't really enhance performance. You still have to put in the work. Steroids are really just recovery drugs. You still have to put in the work, but you can recover more quickly and work out more often. Is there a steroid alternative that is as effective? No. But through the use of sophisticated nutrition you can get maybe 25% of the effectiveness of steroids.
- How about longevity? Romanowski said he took steroids for the longevity. Sure, you can extend a NFL career 2-3 years.