"I've met a lot of big personalities in my time, but Doc was one of the biggest," Smith said. "I can sit on my recliner and laugh out loud at the memories."

Ziegler also gave steroids to Smith, who was never a competitive lifter but wanted to know what it was like to heft serious weight.

The trainer took three pink pills a day on a six-week cycle, then alternated off the drug for five weeks. In 11 months, Smith gained 20 pounds of muscle. His quest climaxed when he raised 1,010 pounds on his shoulders in a squat.

"I had found out all I needed to know," he said.

Smith stopped using steroids.

Eventually, Riecke suspected he needed the pills to maintain success. "I hate to attribute any portion of our success to medicinal factors," he wrote in a 1962 letter obtained by Fair. "But some portions of my improvement coincided with my ingestion of them."

His demands for the pills became more incessant. He acknowledges now that Dianabol was probably the driving force behind his late-career improvement. He set a world record in the snatch in 1964, the year he turned 38, and made the 1964 Olympic team.

"It helped me," he said.

Riecke doesn't look back with regret. He took no more than 10 milligrams of Dianabol a day and never suffered ill effects. He became a strength coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s and said he never suggested steroids to players because "I didn't believe in it."

No qualms
When it became apparent that the pink pills had a lot to do with the York lifters' sudden surges in strength, few seemed to find the conclusion ethically troubling.

"That came later, maybe in the late 1960s," Fair said. "At that point, it became a whispering issue. 'How did he get so much stronger?' And, of course, if you're the lifter, you want people to think it's really you."

Even if the drugs had been taboo, Fair suspects that many lifters would have used them.

"If he had told me to eat grass, I would have done so to get strong," Bill March told him in one interview about Ziegler.

Even as lifters gained wisdom about the effects of the pink pills, Ziegler seemed to lose interest and shift his focus to the isotron, a device that supposedly replicated nerve impulses delivered from the brain to the muscles. He believed it would make him wealthy and even bragged to Riecke that John Unitas had shown an interest. He said he had increased muscle mass in foxes and snakes with the device.

But as Ziegler turned away, anabolic steroid use increased exponentially through the mid-1960s. The doctor eventually tried to shove the genie he had unleashed back into its bottle, saying in a 1967 article for Strength & Health that steroids "are categorically condemned for the athlete."

He complained in a 1969 Sports Illustrated article that the York lifters "went crazy about steroids." Two years before his death in 1985, he told lifting historian Terry Todd he regretted his involvement with the drugs.

Smith said the doctor expressed misgivings in the early 1960s. When he found that lifters were doubling their doses by going to a pharmacist in York, he refused to write them any more prescriptions, the trainer recalled. He performed liver function tests every four months to make sure the drugs weren't harming his subjects.

"He really was trying to do it on a clinical basis," Smith said. "And remember, steroids were legal."

"I don't think he ever wanted this to become a negative," Fair said. "What an imagination this guy had. He did lead us forward. He just happened to lead us into a terrifying world."