Thursday, March 04, 2010

Fromt he Archives: Former sports scientist reveals Soviet steroid program for athletes

[Editor's Note: the following is a reprint of and article by Janet Rae Brooks that appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune on August 31, 2003. Look for Pappillon to print an interview with Michael Kalinkski in the near future.]

A former top Soviet sports scientist has revealed a secret document that buttresses long-held suspicions that Soviet sporting success was built on the systematic use of banned anabolic steroids.

Only after Michael Kalinski obtained citizenship in another country did he dare speak publicly about the document that described state-supported steroid research on athletes and recommended that elite weightlifters, boxers, wrestlers, gymnasts, fencers and endurance athletes inject the drugs to boost performance.

"I could not speak in my country and here I can," said Kalinski. "That's the major reason."

Although many in the West had long suspected that Soviet domination of Olympic sport was steroid-fueled, no concrete proof of a state-sanctioned doping program had surfaced since the Soviet Union collapsed more than a decade ago.

After the secrets of the East German doping apparatus were found in classified police documents in 1990, similar revelations were expected to emerge from the Soviet Union and other East Bloc nations.

But none surfaced until Kalinski stepped forward with the first solid evidence that the Soviet government backed drug research on athletes and supported steroid use.

"It's understandable that he's nervous," said Tom Fahey, a professor of exercise physiology at California State at Chico, who encouraged Kalinski to make the report public. Not only was Kalinski uniquely positioned as an insider to provide the first credible information about Soviet steroid programs, but the research itself -- administering steroids to athletes – could never be duplicated.

"Even though it's abhorrent research, the information is still valuable," said Fahey.

The 39-page document was likely the starting point for the rapid spread of steroids throughout Soviet sport, said Kalinski. By circulating the report to elite sport institutes, government agencies were encouraging sports officials, coaches and athletes to use the drugs.

"It's an official recommendation from the top," said Kalinski.

Now a U.S. citizen and professor at Kent State University, Kalinski received the classified research report, "Anabolic Steroids and Sport Capacity," in 1972 when he was chairman of the department of sport biochemistry of the Kiev Institute of Physical Culture. The Institute's research vice president instructed him to pass the document, one of 150 copies printed and numbered "for limited use," to four other department chairs.

He never did. The report, he concluded, touted steroid use while ignoring possible side affects, which he knew included decreased sperm production, impotence, premature puberty in young athletes, liver problems and skeletal muscle injuries.

So he put the document in his desk and hoped that his actions would save some Ukrainian athletes from steroid abuse. Destroying it wasn't an option. At any time, he could have been asked to account for the numbered document. Exposing the report in the West would have landed him in a Soviet Gulag for revealing state secrets or at least resulted in banishment from his field, he said. His mentor at the university had long ago taught him to keep his mouth shut.

"We all felt helpless and that the KGB was in charge," he said.

It never occurred to Kalinski that he held a smoking gun that could someday help expose the sordid truth behind Soviet sporting achievements and perhaps lead to the rewriting of Olympic history. Like others, he assumed the Soviet empire would last forever.

But by the time Kalinski left the Soviet Union in late 1990, the unthinkable was happening. The Berlin Wall had fallen. Communist regimes had been overthrown in former East Bloc satellite states. The Soviet Union was in turbulence. A beaten-down populace was suddenly challenging authority. Ukrainian students were in revolt, staging hunger strikes and demanding dissolution of the Ukrainian republic's government.

Before flying to the United States, Kalinski tucked the document into his briefcase.

"I knew it was probably the most valuable thing I had," he said.

Not until he obtained U.S. citizenship a decade later did he consider making the document public. His top priority during his early years in the U.S. was to re-establish his academic career. He feared that revealing the document at that point would be seen as a ploy to gain advantage.

He also knew that revealing information about Soviet drug use would bring condemnation at home. He could even have been accused of being involved in the research himself. The West German couple who revealed the secrets of a massive East German doping program through documents stored in STASI secret police archives found themselves heavily criticized for exposing dirty stories about drug cheats.

"Their feeling of patriotism is that you should not expose the past of your country," he said.

His document is the first of its kind to be made public. In a dozen years since the fall of the Soviet Union, no other such evidence has emerged about doping in Soviet sport.

"I can guess why," Kalinski said. In the economic turmoil following the collapse of the Soviet Union, people had more important things on their minds. "If a professor's salary falls to $80 to $100 dollars a month [after the fall of Communism], and the prices are the same, would you think of papers you received 30 years ago?" he said.

Evidence of a state-run Soviet doping program could also have been purposely destroyed. Without the efforts of Brigitte Berendonk and Werner Franke, the existence of the East German doping machine may not have surfaced either.

Driven to expose how a tiny country had transformed itself into an international sporting power, Berendonk and her husband, molecular biologist Werner Franke, tracked down STASI archives that documented doses and dates of steroid administration to East German athletes over a quarter of a century. Germany eventually brought more than 400 charges of causing bodily harm against former East German sports leaders, physicians and coaches.

No charges have ever been laid against Soviet officials, although the Soviet doping machine was likely much larger. With only a tenth of the population of the Soviet Union, East Germany had 1,500 researchers, physicians and coaches involved in doping.

Kalinski assumes that his document represents "a very small window" into the steroid research carried out during the years of Soviet domination of Olympic sport.

He is also skeptical that the state's greatest steroid secrets would have arrived at his institute by mail, especially when the state had a system in place for circulating more sensitive material. To view classified Communist party documents, Kalinski had to report to a special office at his institute to read them. More explosive steroid directives could have been circulated in the same manner, with Kalinski outside the loop.

Steroid research was unlikely to have been conducted without the knowledge of central authorities, who approved the five-year research plans of all Soviet sports institutes.

The recommendations for steroid use also seem overly ambitious for the data presented, which leaves Kalinski wondering if they were based on more extensive research deemed too sensitive to include in the classified document.

Soviet scientists, he points out, had just as much incentive as athletes and coaches to chase Olympic medals. Olympic success translated into free apartments, cars, state stipends and foreign travel for them, too.

Keeping such a program secret wasn't difficult in a totalitarian regime. Kalinski never talked to his Soviet colleagues about steroid use. Distrust was almost as palpable as in North Korea, he said. When a group of top North Korean sport scientists visited his Kiev institute, Kalinski noticed they were afraid to say a word to each other.

After Kalinski published a book on sports nutrition in 1986 -- he wrote or co-wrote eight other books on sports-science-related topics -- he began to be invited as a lecturer in the Soviet Union. After one lecture, a weightlifter took him aside to ask about growth hormone. Kalinski told him it may cause acromegaly, or increased bone growth. The weightlifter persisted: "So do you think it's a good thing?" Kalinski told him he didn't know.

"Because I really didn't know," Kalinski said. "I knew only the basics. It was like in a movie. His expression was like, 'You're cheating me and you don't want to tell me for some reason. You don't feel I'm important.' " "He was using it for sure," said Kalinski. "He felt it gave him an advantage. So he simply didn't believe what I was telling him. He couldn't believe that a scientist wouldn't know."

For Kalinski, speaking out is also a way to quiet other ghosts. His own country, Ukraine, suffered heavily under Soviet domination, with at least 7 million Ukrainians believed to have perished in a state-induced famine in the 1930s. Among the victims: Kalinski's grandfather. An uncle was also taken by the Soviet secret police and never seen again.

The Ukrainian Parliament passed a resolution in May declaring the famine an act of genocide. Two weeks later, Kalinski presented a lecture on "Ergogenic Aids in Soviet Elite Sport" at a sports-science conference in San Francisco. Last month, he lectured on doping in Soviet sport at a conference in Berlin.

Now Kalinski wants to hunt down death records of Soviet Olympic champions.

"I expect we will be amazed," he said.

A 1984 British study in Nature found that 26 Soviet Olympic medalists died between 1976 and 1982 at an average age of 41. Among the dead: Alexander Belov at age 26. Belov scored the winning basket against the United States in the controversial 1972

Olympic men's basketball final. Further collaborating a link between steroid use and early death, a Finnish study published last year reported that former Finnish power lifters -- a sport where steroid use was rampant -- were almost five times more likely to die than age-matched peers.

Doping athletes indiscriminately for the glory of the Soviet state was a crime against humanity in the same way that purposely starving millions of people to death was criminal, Kalinski believes.

"If they didn't care about 10 million people, why would they care about 26 athletes when it's about the prestige of the Communist system?" he said.

Russia's new government likely did not press sports scientists involved in steroid research or officials who administered doping programs to resign their jobs, Kalinski said. So those responsible probably continue in prominent positions.

Casting around for a theme for his Berlin lecture, Kalinski found an Estonian poem that summed up why he was at last speaking out:

Nothing in the world will change if we don't change it.

You have to do everything in your power, even if it is not much.


WHAT: A report secretly circulated to elite Soviet sports institutes in the 1970s, which presented data from secret studies performed at the country's premier sport-research laboratory on the performance-enhancing effects of anabolic steroids, and which provided recommendations for steroid use by elite athletes.


* Biathletes training at altitude who took Dianabol for 20 days significantly increased muscle size and oxygen-carrying capacity compared to a placebo group. The Dianabol group also recovered more quickly.

* Rowers given 300 mg of Dianabol over 20 days increased training volume and intensity and oxygen-carrying capacity compared to controls. They also beat the controls in competition.

* Basketball players given oral Dianabol or the injectable steroid, Deca-Durabolin during 30 days of training also trained longer and more intensely and improved oxygen-carrying capacity.

* Weightlifters, gymnasts and track and field athletes given 15 mg a day of Dianabol and four 50 mg injections of Deca-Durabolin over 30 days increased body weight, lean body mass and muscle size.

* High doses of Dianabol dramatically improved strength and performance in just three weeks in both elite and non-elite athletes, particularly weightlifters. Athletes started with 5 mg, increasing the dose by 5 mg a day for 10 to 12 days.

* Athletes taking high dosages of Dianabol reported increased feelings of power, heightened mood, and increased desire to train hard, with more complete recovery after training.

ADDICTION: After 10 to 12 days at high doses, training became hard, mood crashed and recovery slowed. Some of these "drug-addict" athletes, the authors stated, could become steroid "slaves."

RECOMMENDATIONS: Deca-Durabolin injections advised for elite endurance athletes and those in strength-dependent sports, such as weightlifting, boxing, wrestling and gymnastics, and also in fencing. Specific protocols for various sports were provided. Weightlifters should be given very high doses.

POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS: Toxic metabolites in the liver, headaches, sleeplessness, rashes, fluid retention, muscle injuries due to increased strength, weakness of tendons and ligaments in knee and ankle due to increased muscle strength, which would possibly only occur if recommended doses and duration were exceeded.

REPRODUCTIVE SIDE EFFECTS: Increased libido, decreased sperm production, impotence, infertility. Premature puberty in young athletes.

STUDY SHORTCOMINGS: Subjects were not assigned randomly to groups and no control groups were used for calorie and protein intake. Much of the information is derived from case studies without control groups.

Medal standings

1952 Helsinki

First appearance in the Olympics by the Soviet Union

1. United States 40 19 17

2. Soviet Union 22 30 19

1956 Melbourne

1. Soviet Union 37 29 32

2. United States 32 25 17

1960 Rome

1. Soviet Union 43 29 31

2. United States 34 21 16

1964 Tokyo

1. United States 36 26 28

2. Soviet Union 30 31 35

1968 Mexico City

1. United States 45 28 34

2. Soviet Union 29 32 30

1972 Munich

1. Soviet Union 50 27 22

2. United States 33 31 30

3. East Germany 20 23 23

1976 Montreal

1. Soviet Union 49 41 35

2. East Germany 40 25 25

3. United States 34 35 25

1980 Moscow -- boycotted by United States

1. Soviet Union 80 69 46

2. East Germany 47 37 42

1984 Los Angeles -- boycotted by Soviet Union and most other East bloc countries

1988 Seoul

1. Soviet Union 55 31 46

2. East Germany 37 35 30

3. USA 36 31 27

The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.


1958 -- Ciba releases Dianabol (methandrostenalone), the first U.S.-made anabolic steroid. The drug is intended for burn patients and some geriatric cases.

1967 -- The International Olympic Committee bans doping, which it defines as "the use of substances of techniques in any form or quantity alien or unnatural to the body with the exclusive aim of obtaining an artificial or unfair increase of performance in competition."

1968 -- Drug testing carried out for the first time at Mexico City Olympics for research purposes only.

1972 -- An unofficial poll of track and field athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics finds that 68 percent had used steroids.

1974 -- The IOC specifically bans steroids after a test is developed to detect their use.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Wasn't aware of this guy before. Seems like I thought all there was to know about Eastern Bloc doping was already published? Not true? What is Pappillon going to bring us that we don't already know? Just curious.


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