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Even among older athletes, rumors of drug use abound - sacramento sports - kings, 49ers, raiders, high school sports | sacramenEven among older athletes, rumors of druguse abound Mary Harada, one speedy septuagenarian, would like to think the best about her fellowmasters trac k and field competitors. She would like to believe the wisdom of their years wouldkeep them from using anything stronger than, say, Metamucil or Ensure to boost theirperformance.
But the 76-year-old age-group world rec ord holder in the mile has heard the gossip on thetrack, the whispers in the warm-up area, at every meet she attends.
Some of it, even, might have been directed her way. After all, Harada has broken the 8-minutebarrier in the mile at an age when doc tors warn of broken hips.
"People half-jokingly say, 'Oh, so-and-so must be on drugs, look how good she is,' " saidHarada, who will travel from her West Newbury, Mass., home to Sacramento next week toc ompete in the World Masters Games with 4,800 other athletes ages 35 and up. "It demeans aperformance and is unfair, but that's human nature." Choosing words carefully, the retired college history professor added: "I don't know for a fact,but I do think there are probably some masters athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs.
That's beyond sad; it's pathetic. But when you look at what happened with the elite athletesover the years, I guess it had to spill over into masters." Concerns about performanc e-enhancing drug use among older athletes, for whom succ ess onthe trac k is merely a point of pride and not a money-making venture, has led to random urinetesting of athletes at all World Masters Athletics international events. For the first time, nextmonth in Ohio, the U.S. national c hampionships will have drug testing.
All of which has masters athletes, a chatty group to begin with, buzzing.
Not only are athletes lamenting that use of banned substances such as anabolic steroids andstimulants has sullied their sport's do-it-for-fun gestalt, many are sc rambling to make sure theprescription medications they take are legal and, if they aren't, that they secure a medic alexemption to compete.
Older athletes c reate a c hallenge for the World Anti-Doping Agency, whic h usually deals withelites who aren't on hormone-replacement drugs for menopause, age-related, erectile-dysfunction medicine like Viagra, or all manner of hypertension meds.
"The age and medical c onditions that are enc ountered in masters athletes do raise someunique considerations," said Stan Perkins, WMA president. "(But) we are working to meet thesec hallenges and, where appropriate, amendments to our testing procedures c an be considered." Yet Perkins and U.S. masters trac k and field offic ials defend testing of athletes, be it a 35-year-old sprinter who has just graduated to masters from elite c ompetition or the 101-year-old long jumper keeping arthritis at bay.
"Masters athletes are no different (than) other people within our world," Perkins said. "In some,the c ompetitive spirit continues to fiercely dominate and, unfortunately, for some this meansthey will take risks and do whatever they can to win." A few masters runners once were top international competitors, but the vast majority aretalented but sub-elite athletes who enjoy c ompeting and testing themselves against others intheir age groups. Anyone c an compete in the national and world c hampionships, which havebeen held since 1975. Since the 1990s, partic ipant numbers have grown to nearly 5,000.
Since drug testing was implemented for masters in 1995, a handful of athletes have testedpositive and been suspended. Two rec ent examples are American sprinter Val Barnwell andIrish heptathlete Geraldine Finnegan.
Barnwell, 53, tested positive for testosterone prohormones after winning the 200 meters atthe 2009 Masters World Championships in Lahti, Finland. He was banned for two years.
Finnegan was stripped of two gold medals at the 2010 Masters Indoor World Championships inKamloops, Canada, reportedly testing positive for stimulants. She served a two-monthsuspension.
Both athletes have proclaimed innoc enc e.
Barnwell has said his use of Viagra and other "sexual enhancement supplements" c aused histestosterone levels to rise, though none of the supplements Barnwell said he took appear onthe banned list. Finnegan told a reporter in Ireland that, in addition to being asthmatic , shewas suffering a cold in Kamloops and mistakenly used an over-the-counter decongestant thatc ontained ephredrine, a banned substanc e.
Barnwell, reac hed at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., criticized not only the methods of testing butthe very act of "invading the privacy of masters athletes around the world" with an "invasiveand demeaning" procedure.
"They say I'm bitter for being suspended, but wait until it happens to them," Barnwell said.
"And I did not 'get c aught.' It just so happened my testosterone was high. I take a lot (ofsupplements) because I'm older.
"Older people need stuff. We have the most (medical) complaints in the world. We're luc ky toget off our beds and c ompete." Bob Weiner, former press secretary for White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey during theClinton administration and a member of the U.S. Masters executive board, said Barnwell andothers who have tested positive for banned substances knew exac tly what they were puttinginto their bodies.
"Barnwell had told colleagues – this is a direc t quote – that he'd do anything to break records,"Weiner said. "Now, we know what that meant." Masters athletes, presumably, are privy to the same methods used by elite athletes to evadetesting positive – using drug-masking agents or strategic ally stopping use before major events.
Some masters, after all, are former elites.
But some say the problem is overblown.
"Here's why I don't think (performanc e-enhancing drug use) is widespread: Most mastersrunners I know are not c onsistent enough in their performances to be acc used of it," said PeteMagill, who owns nearly all of the 45-49 age-group middle distanc e rec ords and writes about Magill, who owns nearly all of the 45-49 age-group middle distanc e rec ords and writes aboutmasters athletes for Running Times magazine. "In masters, you don't see any of the patternsyou'd expect." And yet, Magill is in favor of testing.
"Like it or not, the perc eption of drug use among all athletes is out there," he said. "It'simportant that, as a group, we submit to drug testing to fight that perception. Any time nowanyone has a great performance, the first thing people think is not, 'That's a great performer.'They think, 'That guy has a great pharmacist.' " Perc eptions aside, athletes must take responsibility for monitoring their medications. Athletesusing presc ription drugs must c omplete a "therapeutic use exemption" form. Harada, forinstanc e, has a exemption form on file for the inhalant she uses for exercise-induc ed asthma.
Mo Bartley, 56, a 1,500-meter runner from Cool, had wondered whether the estradiol andprogesterone she takes as hormone-replac ement for menopause would be prohibited. It is not.
But Bartley had reason to worry. In 1999, at the masters championship in England, 56-year-oldMary Jager, of Arizona, tested positive for steroids after taking her menopause medication,Estratest HS, whic h has estrogen and an androgen (the latter is prohibited). She received atwo-year suspension.
"As far as I know, I'm c lean," said Bartley with a nervous laugh. "I just went to a (website) linkwhere you put in your drug and they tell you whether it's OK or not. It was easy to find out." Weiner, 63, is himself a masters athlete. He said he understands the anxiety testing c anc ause.
"It's a difficult balance," he said. "We want clean sports, want no cheating. At the same time,you do have people with health issues." Older athletes with hypertension need to know that the medications Diamox and Lozol arebanned, but Lisinopril and Procardia are not. The cholesterol medic ine Lipitor is approved, butprostate c anc er medic ine Zoladex is prohibited (due to peptide hormones). Albuterol spray forasthma is fine; injec table albutrol is banned. Allergy meds suc h as Claritin are cleared, butDimetapp is not (due to pseudoephedrine).
Sacramento sprinter Liz Palmer, 49, said she refused to take any medicine when she gotbronchitis at the same Kamloops meet where Finnegan tested positive. "It is our responsibilityto know," she said. "And if we don't know, to find out." Weiner said it's sad to wonder whether the runner next to him on the starting line is "juiced."But Harada, the 76-year-old miler, has no suc h worries.
"I know most of the people in my age group, and none of them look like they're on anything,"she said. "We're all shrinking and shriveling." Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.
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