There, he later told interviewers, he shared drinks with a Russian doctor, who let slip that Soviet athletes were already receiving testosterone injections. Despite that bit of intelligence, Ziegler dropped his experimentation with testosterone for several years.

In the late 1950s, however, Ciba, a New Jersey pharmaceutical company, gave the doctor samples of a new drug. The hope was that the substance would produce strength gains without the added aggression and sexual arousal caused by straight testosterone. It was called Dianabol.

Hoffman and his York lifters showed initial skepticism toward the pills. "What seems obvious is that no one from York was eagerly embracing steroids at first and that they gained experimental use only because of Ziegler's insatiable curiosity," Fair wrote in a 1993 article for the Journal of Sport History.

York lifters Bill March and Tony Garcy showed rapid improvement after taking Dianabol in 1960.

March believed his improvement flowed mostly from isometric training (the exertion of force against an immovable object or surface). Garcy believed better mental preparation accounted for his gains.

About the same time, Ziegler began working with Riecke, an exceptional athlete and the thoughtful product of a liberal, learned New Orleans family.

Until he hooked up with Ziegler, Riecke was no more than a second-tier lifter. In less than a year with the doctor, he added a thick layer of muscle and became a serious threat to win Olympic gold.

"He was doing things that became the talk of the country," Fair said.

Riecke was surprised by the extent of his improvement. Like March and Garcy, he attributed it to the power of hypnosis and isometric training more than steroids. He did not seem to notice his poorer results coincided with periods when he cycled off steroids.

Ziegler told Riecke to keep his new training regimen secret at first. But Hoffman asked him how he had improved so rapidly during a conversation that included Ziegler. "Tell him," the doctor said.

So Riecke described the wonders of isometrics to York's lifting impresario.

"Next thing I knew, Hoffman had a book out about how he had invented isometrics," Riecke recalled with a laugh.

Not scientific
In correspondence unearthed by Fair, Ziegler sounds unsure which of his methods led to Riecke's great leaps in performance. He didn't run proper scientific experiments, with control subjects and adequate sample sizes. Instead, he worked with a handful of athletes and bombarded them with everything from hypnosis to isometric training to an electrical device he called the isotron.

"He had a great imagination, and he developed all sorts of possibilities," Fair said. "But I'm not sure the doc ever really knew where his results came from."

Ziegler's fast-and-loose experimentation fit with his outsized personality. He smoked, drank and liked to hit the town in his convertible. He was a John Wayne devotee who dressed in cowboy and Indian costumes with some frequency.

Smith, the former Olympic trainer, remembered stopping for a drink in Westminster on one car trip from Olney to York. "Nothing unusual about that," he said, "except Doc was dressed as an Amish preacher."

Ziegler requested a double shot of whiskey and asked the bartender whether that seemed strange given his outfit. It did, the man replied.

"I'm working on a sermon about the nature of good and ee-vile," Smith remembered the doctor saying. "I know a lot about good, but I need to know more about ee-vile. So give me another belt."

He had a nickname for everyone. Hoffman was BoHo. Smith was Schmidnick. Ziegler's young son was Knee Deep because he was always in trouble.

Ziegler's beagle, Clyde, held place of honor at the family dinner table, often receiving the first serving.