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Hegg Contends Olympic Ouster Is Unfair : Disqualified for Using Stimulant Before a Race, Cyclist Disputes Validity of Test

Times Staff Writer

Before he won his gold and silver medals at the 1984 Olympic Games, cyclist Steve Hegg had described himself as a competition junkie, saying the drive to excel “is in my blood.”

But Hegg, a Dana Point resident, was disqualified from the U.S. Olympic team on Sept. 10 because something else was in his blood--caffeine.

Hegg tested positive for the drug, which is banned by the IOC, at the U.S. Olympic track cycling trials at Houston last month.

Caffeine, in large doses, is considered a performance-enhancing drug by the International Olympic Committee.

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The United States Olympic Committee says that the use of caffeine in “an amount greater than 12 micrograms per milliliter in the urine is considered doping.”

In other words, someone would have to consume approximately eight cups of coffee in one sitting and be tested within a minimum of two hours to fail the test.

Hegg disputes the test results, but a USOC sports medicine expert says his argument has no basis in fact.

“It was extremely hot down in Houston. It was in the 90s all day long,” Hegg said during an interview last week. “I contribute the problem to the heat and the dehydration . . . that made the caffeine more concentrated,” Hegg said.

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“I used the same amount of caffeine in Houston that I have used in any other international world championship-type race, and have been tested a million times and never had a problem before.”

“I always drink two large cups of coffee, from like the 7-11 or Stop and Go type before races . . . 16 ounce (size), probably.

“In the morning, I don’t know, I had four to five cups at breakfast, three or four anyway. Then we had rain delay. I had warmed up once already. I was pretty dehydrated, so I started drinking Coke, because I knew there was small amount of caffeine in there and I wanted that.

“I lost track how many of those I had, but I mean we had a 3-hour rain delay so I’d been sitting there and it (the Coke) was free so I was drinking it.”

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“We finally got to race that night. I’d been waiting and waiting and waiting and drinking and drinking and drinking, trying to stay hydrated, and it never even crossed my mind that I would be (over the limit). “

The USOC views a positive drug test as final, without chance of appeal. There are two tests done on each athlete’s urine sample. Hegg’s sample failed both tests.

“Caffeine works different for everybody,” Hegg contends. “It’s one of those unknown things . . . (The testing’s) not really fair because the computer doesn’t take in any of the variables (body composition, weather). (The heat and humidity) must’ve make a difference because I was dehydrated.”

But according to Jeanette Grice of the USOC’s division of sports medicine and science in Colorado Springs, Colo., tests for caffeine are not affected by weather conditions or an individual’s physiology.

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"(Humidity) wouldn’t make any difference in testing,” Grice said. “And it’s not different for each person. It’s the amount of caffeine in the body at the time of testing that matters.”

Hegg said that besides the coffee and the cola, he did not take any other substance containing caffeine such as NoDoz or Vivarin, two stimulants that are widely used among competitive cyclists.

When asked whether drinking cola throughout the day would likely register a positive test for caffeine, Grice said:

“It’s not very likely. You’d have to drink 12-15 Cokes all at one time, and be tested right then and there. (To test positive) we’re talking massive quantities of caffeine, almost toxic levels.

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“If someone were drinking (caffeine-containing beverages) all day, most of the caffeine would’ve been excreted by the body (by the time of testing).”

Grice said the USOC drug education program offers athletes plenty of information about drugs, their effects, and how and why athletes are tested.

In addition to a drug education newsletter, a question-and-answer pamphlet on drug testing, and a drug information video--all of which include sections on caffeine--the USOC provides an 800 number for its drug education hotline.

“All the athletes have access to this information,” Grice said. “It’s always available to them at drug testing sites, or they can give us a call and we’ll send it out. There is no excuse for an athlete not knowing.”

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Did Hegg overlook this information?

“There’s gobs of information around but the U.S. Olympic Committee never talks about (caffeine) . . . At the little seminar things I’ve been to, they never talk about caffeine.

“They’re always about . . . steroids . . . (and) stimulants. I think they kind of bypass (talking about caffeine) because they think that it doesn’t happen that often.

“To tell you the truth I thought to be illegal for caffeine, I mean, I thought it was like . . . way, way up there, you know. We’ve always heard it was like a box of NoDoz, or at least six or seven of them. I’ve taken two myself, you know, but I thought (the limit) was way, way up there.”

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Hegg, who qualified for the U.S. Olympic team last month in the 4,000-meter team pursuit, the event in which he won a silver medal in 1984, has faced controversy before.

In 1985, an investigation by four USOC doctors showed that Hegg was one of several top American cyclists to have participated in blood doping before their events at the 1984 Olympics.

Blood doping is the intravenous injection of blood into the body for the purpose of enhancing performance.

Hegg will not say whether he was involved in blood doping.

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The practice is now banned by the IOC. But it was not prohibited in 1984, though many considered it unethical--cheating by biological means.

Mark Gorski, who won a gold medal in the 1,000-meter sprint at the 1984 Games but failed to qualify for the 1988 U.S. team, said he feels sorry for Hegg--up to a point.

“I feel bad for Steve, but I feel he should’ve known better,” Gorski said.

“The thing I can’t understand about Steve is everyone knew caffeine was on the banned list. He obviously had to take a lot to get over the limit. It’s no accident. There’s no excuse.

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“What are you going to say, ‘I didn’t know I took cocaine or (another) drug?’ It’s the athlete’s responsibility to find out what’s illegal and what’s not. Steve knew, we all did. There’s no an excuse at all in my opinion.”

Hegg, however, sees it a little differently.

“Being disqualified for caffeine is like driving the traffic in Southern California. The (speed) limit is 55, and everybody’s doing 75, but Mr. Officer found Steve Hegg going down the road . . . keeping up with the flow of traffic.

“And there’s no traffic school this time.”

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