Gatekeeper for clean sports
Don Catlin, one of the world’s top antidoping researchers, is tired of chasing down drugs. Now, he wants to help clean athletes prove their innocence.
The back lot behind Barry’s Plumbing doesn’t look like a fitting place for one of sport’s greatest sleuths to set up shop. The narrow alleyway is unmarked, as is the plain brick building – a former clothing manufacturing shop. Google Maps will not get you here.Skip to next paragraph
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But then again, fame and fancy office space aren’t what Don Catlin is after. It’s illegal performance-
enhancing drugs he’s targeting.
Antidoping czars plead for his help. Dopers dread it. His team was, after all, the one that cracked the designer steroid at the heart of the California BALCO scandal – arguably the biggest doping ring unearthed since East Germany’s program, involving more than a dozen athletes including track star Marion Jones and baseball giant Barry Bonds.
“[Chief BALCO investigator] Jeff [Novitsky] called me one day,” recalls Dr. Catlin, chuckling. “He’s reading me an e-mail that he lifted from somewhere and it said something like, ‘Catlin’s on to it [the drug]. Better move to another one.’”
One of the world’s most respected names in the science of doping, Catlin spent 25 years pioneering a global antidoping model in the Olympic lab at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). He oversaw the Olympic drug-testing labs at the 1984, 1996, and 2002 Games, and is playing a supporting role in Beijing.
Still, despite his success as one of the cleverest cats in a Tom-and-Jerry pursuit of dopers, Catlin has become convinced that the paradigm on which he based his work for two decades is faulty: It’s the clean athletes – not the dirty ones – who deserve his services.
It all started when a coach burst into Catlin’s office nearly three decades ago. US sprinter Evelyn Ashford, a medal favorite for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, was drawing suspicions of doping because she was beating East German “she-males.” Pat Connolly was in his doorway, begging him to prove them wrong.
“What she wanted me to do was test Evelyn and stand up and say, ‘She’s clean,’ ” says Catlin, who was then setting up a drug-testing lab for the Games. “She didn’t really understand how complex that would be to actually execute it.”