Cheat Sheet: The File On Fallen Track Star Tyson Gay

ProPublica Staff

Washington, DC, United States (ProPublica) – by David Epstein

This story was co-published with Sports Illustrated.Update:

On May 2, the United States Anti-Doping Agency banned Tyson Gay from competition for one year, vacated his race results dating back to July 15, 2012 and required him to return his Olympic silver medal. Gay – who has had a number of disappointing Olympic performances – said last year that the medal he won in the 4×100-meter relay at the 2012 Olympics kept him from ” jumping off a bridge. “

Gay’s ban is one year rather than the standard two because he cooperated with USADA to provide information about others potentially involved in doping.

Last July, U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay held the fastest 100-meter time in the world. He appeared primed to give world record holder Usain Bolt a run for the crown at the 2013 world championships in Moscow the following month. But instead of discussing his acceleration phase, Gay struggled through sobs as he told reporters that he’d failed a drug test.

“I don’t have a sabotage story,” Gay said, after he’d been alerted to his positive test by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). “I don’t have any lies. I don’t have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake or it was on USADA’s hands, someone playing games…I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down.”

Since then, the name of that someone, and the substance that triggered Gay’s positive test, have remained the subject of speculation among fans and other sprinters, who refer obliquely to “the Tyson situation.”

People with knowledge of USADA’s ongoing investigation have told ProPublica that the sprinter tested positive for a steroid or steroid precursor believed to have come from a cream given to him by Atlanta chiropractor and anti-aging specialist Clayton Gibson III.

The saga of the nation’s top sprinter likely done in by an obscure cream delivered by an anti-aging practitioner provides a view of the slipshod medical underworld of top-level sport, in which athletes risk their reputations in the enduring hunt for any competitive edge.

Time and again, premier athletes have turned to practitioners who employ novel or unproven methods. This can range from remedy peddlers with no credentials whatsoever — like the former male stripper who was plying NFL and professional golf stars with pseudo-mystical deer antler spray — to those who have invented and certified their own medical specialty, like the founder of “chiropractic neurology,” who was tasked with helping former National Hockey League MVP Sidney Crosby recover from concussions.

This hunt for any performance boost only intensifies as athletes reach their 30s, old age in explosive sports.

Says a former All-Pro NFL lineman who claims he was approached by Gibson, but declined to become his patient: “The culture now is: If you don’t have all this extra stuff, you’re not winning.”

Their claims notwithstanding, these unconventional practitioners often are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the drug tests athletes face, and the variations in standards from sport to sport. Some may not truly understand what is in the creams, potions and sprays they dole out to their clients.

Yet in elite athlete circles, their credentials can be less important than testimonials from fellow athletes, who look to what their competitors and peers are doing. Increasingly, this means turning to practitioners like Gibson who classify themselves as anti-aging specialists. Gibson’s client list has included football players such as Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, New York Jets safety Ed Reed, Cleveland Browns running back Willis McGahee, and the late boxing champion Vernon Forrest.

The label on the cream Gay is believed to have used starkly says “Testosterone/DHEA Crème,” and lists testosterone and DHEA among its ingredients. DHEA is a hormone converted in the body to testosterone, and both DHEA and testosterone are banned for Olympic athletes. Two other listed ingredients, IGF-1 and somatropin — another name for human growth hormone — are also forbidden.

According to athletes and coaches who spoke with Gay about the cream, Gay insisted that Gibson told him that the product was “all natural” and that NFL clients had used it and passed drug tests. The label on the jar reads: “100% All Natural.”

David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said it is “staggering” that an athlete today would use a supplement that so clearly advertised its banned ingredients.

“That’s where it falls into the level of negligence,” he said.

Howman said his agency expected athletes to be hyper-cautious about supplements given the history of high-profile positive drug tests associated with them. Instead, he said, even world-class athletes “are relying more on people around them to be responsible and then, when they get let down, blaming those other people.”

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