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Drug test alibi menu sits ill on stomach

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I stepped onto the treadmill with a cocktail of success swimming inside of me. Who knew exactly what type of historic athletic achievement was going to take place once this machine started whirring? With all the training I'd done over the course of the previous hour, I knew something memorable was about to happen.

As a responsible journalist, one who fights off cynicism with a baseball bat, it was my duty to finally give athletes the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they really did break baseball's home run records cleanly. Maybe they really did win the Tour de France without the aid of drugs. Maybe they really were au natural when they ran faster than just about every single human being before them.

Sure, the drug tests all suggest they had some chemical help, but maybe there was another secret. That's when I knew what I'd have to do to make some athletic history of my own. What if I tracked down their explanations for all those positive doping tests and created a single regimen that would top all others?

It couldn't fail. My plan took all the excuses for superhuman performances, for unnatural blood and urine, for heightened levels of testosterone and combined them.

I started with the whiskey, of course. Among cyclist Floyd Landis' reasons for his bad test last month has been the Jack Daniels he consumed prior to racing the 17th stage of the Tour de France. Landis also blamed beer, cortisone and Mother Nature for cursing his body with a disproportionate amount of testosterone on that day.

There was no way to know just how much whiskey Landis consumed, but one glass was enough for me, especially if I was going to save room for the beer. That's what sprinter Dennis Mitchell said was the cause of his high level of testosterone. Well, technically, he blamed beer and a night of rigorous sex, but for my little study, beer was all I had on hand.

Then I went into my medicine cabinet, which being a young male sports fan, happens to consist solely of Q-tips and vitamin B-12. You'll recall that Rafael Palmeiro blamed his steroid test last year on some bad B-12, given to him by teammate Miguel Tejada.

Last winter, I traveled to the Dominican Republic to visit with Tejada. On my way out of the country, I asked my cabdriver to stop by a series of farmacias, where I purchased several doses of B-12.

I consumed the contents of a small vial and started envisioning the greatness I'd achieve when my training was finished. I considered calling a friend to serve as an official witness for whatever amazing treadmill feat awaited. Or in case my heart stopped.

But there was still more training to do. Of course, there were some things that I couldn't do. I wasn't going to be able to change my body's chemical composition by getting pregnant, which is what tennis player Sesil Karatancheva blamed her bum test on.

Frankly, I didn't have enough time.

Cuban high jumper Javier Sotomayor failed his test because of the Cuban-American mafia and tennis star Petr Korda flunked his because of some bad veal.

And I wasn't going to be able to even come close to cyclist Tyler Hamilton, who blamed his bad test on his unborn twin.

But I could pop a couple of sugar pills. Sprinter Torri Edwards blamed her bad test on some glucose pills, so I visited the neighborhood drug store and bought a bottle for $5.99.

I'm not sure what kind Edwards used to post her blazing times, but I chose the orange-flavored ones.

They don't label the section very well, but the drugstore actually has row upon row of excuses for positive steroid tests. There was cough medicine, cold medicine, flu medicine. They had herbal supplements (sprinter Carl Lewis), ADD medication (sprinter Justin Gatlin's first infraction) and medication intended to stop balding (skeleton racer Zach Lund).

While drawing up this special training regimen - the Recipe for Success, I'd come to call it - I visited the Wikipedia Web site, which contains the most extensive list of busted dopers on the Internet. The site lists the names of more than 300 athletes from all around the world busted for using more than 40 different types of drugs. It took a bit more research - ESPN.com helped - to find more than two dozen excuses posed by athletes to explain their positive drug tests.

Before leaving with my glucose pills, I grabbed an energy drink to wash it all down.

That's what Ben Johnson confused with the steroid Stanozolol in the 1988 Olympics. I couldn't find his brand, though - appropriately called Cheetah.

Walking back home, I can't tell you with absolute certainty that something was happening inside my body. I like to think the special sensation was caused by all of the secret ingredients meeting and greeting each other inside my stomach, though my gait seemed to indicate that only the whiskey was really working.

Just a few more items before I'd be ready for the treadmill. I was guessing I'd easily do a three-minute mile and was starting to contemplate doing one in under two.

I walked into a GNC store, which sells more powders and pills than all of Baltimore's busiest drug dealers combined. I purchased 8 fluid ounces of flaxseed oil for $7.99, which is what helped Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs. When I returned home, I also downed some orange juice, the dubious drink that tainted kayaker Nathan Baggaley's test.

I felt my testosterone level fading, so I had another glass of whiskey. I'm that committed to sport.

I was almost ready for the treadmill. I'd done B-12, beer, whiskey, orange juice, flaxseed oil, glucose tablets and I went into the bathroom for the final ingredient to my cocktail. I lifted the toothpaste tube to my mouth and gave it a squeeze. This is what German middle-distance runner Dieter Baumann said triggered his positive test. Even if it didn't lead me to athletic greatness, I figured it would at least cover the booze on my breath.

I stepped onto the treadmill, thinking that somewhere Raffy, Barry and Floyd would all be very proud. I'd created my athletic edge using everyday household goods and was on the verge of something spectacular.

I punched the buttons on the treadmill, ready for a light warmup before I started really challenging the machine's mechanics.

I was sweating profusely after just 30 seconds and at the one-minute mark, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I ran faster than anyone you've ever seen. I hit the stop button on the treadmill and bolted for the restroom, where my Recipe for Success insisted on seeing daylight once more.

Unlike the athletic greats before me, I was defeated - plus I had a slight headache, a queasy stomach and a bruised sense of self-worth. I just wanted to lie down.

And, I thought, a massage would be nice, which, of course, was the culprit behind Justin Gatlin's second failed drug test. As my failure spun all around me, I was starting to like his excuse much better than the others.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Points after -- Rick Maese

Bad example -- Ultimately, yesterday's news that Floyd Landis' "B" sample revealed the same disproportionate levels of testosterone as his first test will damage a lot more than Landis. The sport of cycling - already regarded as a joke by many because it's dirtier than a football team's laundry bag - will suffer the brunt of the damage, but the world will also view every single American cyclist with incredible skepticism. As they should.

O's win -- The Orioles are miles away from the American League East front-runners. And on Friday, when the Orioles lost to the Yankees in the ninth inning, Comcast agreed to include Peter Angelos' Mid-Atlantic Sports Network on its cable systems. Don't you get the feeling that no matter what the Orioles' final record is, they'll point to this Comcast deal as the year's biggest victory? Team officials say this allows them to be more financially viable, and in turn, more competitive. To the average Orioles fan, this should mean management has no more excuses.

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