Blood-Doping Dilemma : Olympic Cyclist Rogers Says It Raises Other Questions

Times Staff Writer

To Olympic cyclist Thurlow Rogers, blood doping is only part of a much larger problem faced these days by athletes in all sports.

That problem, according to Rogers, who was sixth in the men’s Olympic road race at Mission Viejo last summer, revolves around which artificial stimuli to athletic performance are going to be accepted, which are going to be banned, and which it is actually feasible to ban.

Rogers--one of 16 members of the 24-member U.S. cycling team who declined to take a blood doping transfusion--mentioned a number of such artificial aids and said athletes and coaches are often confused about what is acceptable, or what public opinion, not to mention Olympic authorities, may shortly rule unacceptable.

He said that during recent European competition it became common knowledge that the East German cyclists were taking injections of glucose and mineral solutions at night.

“But we don’t do these things, like glucose or minerals,” he said. “One of the big reasons is that we don’t have team doctors. We’re more amateurs. We say, ‘We’ll ride for a few years.’ With them, they just want to make it, no matter what they have to do.


“What about taking vitamins? Where is the line between vitamins and drugs? And what if you just go up to altitude (and train there)--which does the same thing as blood doping, increases red blood cells and thickens the blood?”

But, almost in the next breath, the 24-year-old from Van Nuys said he doubts the feasibility of banning vitamins or blood doping, because there are no medical tests that can detect such actions.

“Come down to the practical point,” he said. “It’s got to be enforceable. If you say no one can take massive doses of vitamins, then how can you tell whether they did or not?

“And what about technology? In our sport, there are so many new bikes. You try to build a faster bike. When it’s technology, it’s great, everybody loves it. But when you do something a little kinky, it’s no good.”

Rogers acknowledged that he knew about the blood doping last summer, but said nothing about it at the time. He said he is bothered by the controversy surrounding it now. When The Times reported that only a few of the endurance cyclists on the U.S. team had not undergone blood doping, he called in, saying that was an error.

“Of the 10 road racers, male and female, only one was blood doped,” he said. “Our group was more experienced, from European racing trips, than most of the others on the team. We knew that there were questions about the effectiveness of the procedure, and we had also had the altitude training. So we didn’t really think it would do us that much good.”

Rogers said that he had been tempted to have a blood transfusion, but had been stopped by fears that something might go wrong. He said he also wanted to be able to say to himself later, if he won, that he had done so without resorting to such tactics.

“I like knowing I made the Olympic team on my ability and skill, and that I didn’t cheat these other guys who gave their all for five years like I did and didn’t make it,” he said. “You’ve got to beat your friends, and I’m glad I did it honestly. Hopefully, they’d compete the same way.”

He added that he had been pleased when the U.S. Olympic Committee instituted mandatory drug tests for American Olympians.

“It’s good not to have doubts about what is permitted,” he said. “On drugs, we knew there was going to be a real test. And it was great, because some guys, they’ll do anything to get on the team, and they don’t care what happens to their bodies afterwards. They’d do anything. It scares me.”

When it comes to vitamins or blood doping, which can’t be tested for and where coaches and athletes don’t believe they have been given firm guidelines, he is nervous, Rogers said.

He acknowledged, for example, that he took some of the caffeine suppositories provided by the coaching staff--a practice that also has been questioned by U.S. Olympic Committee medical investigators.

Rogers also said that he can’t accept accusations by gold medalist Alexi Grewal and others that the Olympic coaching staff was primarily responsible for the blood doping transfusions.

“None of us was 16 years old,” he said. “It isn’t as if someone came up with a bottle of blood and a needle. They had to get a sister, or their mother (to contribute the blood) well in advance, and they had to tell them what it was for.”