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Gatekeeper for clean sports

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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.

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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.”

In fact, drug testing was so primitive then that Catlin couldn’t even detect a steroid he had knowingly taken as an experiment. Now he and fellow researchers worldwide have developed a sophisticated battery of tests for dozens of drugs. One can even prove that an athlete doped without needing to know what drug was used.

Yet even with all this savvy, the sports world is in something of a nuclear arms race. Almost as quickly as scientists can devise new tests, pharmaceutical companies pump out new drugs that dopers can abuse – or that allied chemists can tweak to foil current tests.

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