Ben Johnson was fortunate to test positive for an anabolic steroid in the 1988 Summer Olympics because it led to the exposure of the man who supervised the sprinter’s drug program, Johnson’s attorney said Tuesday in a surprise attack on Dr. Jamie Astaphan before the Canadian government’s inquiry into drug use by athletes.
“Is that a statement or a question?” the inquiry’s commissioner, Justice Charles L. Dubin, asked Johnson’s attorney, Ed Futerman.
“That’s a statement,” Futerman said. “I apologize.”
An angry Astaphan, who began supplying and administering steroids to Johnson and other Canadian athletes in 1985, was not appeased by the apology.
“Apologizing for a statement like that doesn’t erase it,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty nasty statement.
“When I make a statement to the press or anybody, my attorney gets garbage thrown all over him. This statement isn’t just going to the press. It’s going to 28 million people.”
Futerman’s rancorous declaration came at the close of Astaphan’s fifth day of testimony and elicited a harsh rebuke from Dubin, who called it a breach of inquiry etiquette that he established at the beginning of the nationally televised hearings.
But Futerman was less than polite throughout much of his cross-examination Tuesday of Astaphan.
He suggested that the doctor supplied steroids to athletes without fully informing them of the potential side effects, was derelict in response to Johnson’s abnormal liver test and an Achilles’ tendon injury in 1988 and was more concerned in enhancing his reputation as “the most renowned steroid maestro in the world” than in the proper care of athletes.
Futerman also called Astaphan’s story about an East German athlete who supplied him in 1985 with a drug containing the steroid furazabol “a wonderful work of fiction.”
“I came to Canada voluntarily to testify,” said Astaphan, who lives on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. “I didn’t have to come here and lie. I could have stayed in St. Kitts if I had anything to hide.”
Astaphan, 43, has testified that he gave athletes furazabol from that supply through the 1988 Summer Olympics, absolving himself of responsibility for Johnson’s positive test for another steroid, stanozolol, at Seoul.
But his credibility on that subject has been questioned by Dubin and the commission’s co-counsel, Robert P. Armstrong, because Astaphan will not reveal the name of the East German athlete. Neither will he reveal the name of the Canadian athlete who he said introduced him to the East German.
For the second consecutive day, Dubin requested that Astaphan name the athletes. After conferring with his attorneys, he refused.
“My attorneys have told me that not saying it will affect my credibility,” he said. “But the security of my wife and family comes before that.”
Asked by Dubin if he or his family had been threatened, Astaphan said, “I have been so warned.”
He said that he received the threat from the Canadian athlete.
Evidence presented by the commission last week revealed that Johnson’s liver enzyme level on Aug. 31, 1988 was 61. His normal range is between seven and 35. Futerman said that a subsequent test on March 10, 1989 produced a level of 72.
Asked for his reaction, Astaphan said, “I would like to know what he has done since October.”
Futerman said the tests are clear evidence that the anabolic steroids Johnson took for seven years beginning in 1981 produced an elevated liver enzyme count.
“I would agree with that,” Astaphan said.
Futerman suggested that Astaphan should have been more vigilant in his treatment of Johnson after the Summer Olympics, although the doctor said he was prohibited from seeing Johnson since returning from Seoul by the attorney, Futerman.
“I suggest to you that you were not looking after the health and welfare of your athletes, specifically Ben Johnson,” Futerman told Astaphan near the end of his 30th hour of testimony since May 24.
“You were playing Russian Roulette with Ben’s liver and his Achilles’ tendon, and perhaps he indeed is very fortunate that he tested positive in Seoul to assure that at least people like you would be exposed for what you stand for.”
Dubin, obviously agitated, called for a brief recess, then returned to scold Futerman before adjourning for the day.
“At the beginning of the inquiry, I said that I intended for every witness, he or she, to be treated with courtesy and dignity,” he said. “I don’t want to see that breached again.”