Margaret Goodman spoke to the usual anti-doping figures when she began on her path to develop an independent testing program for boxing and mixed martial arts.
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The former longtime ringside doctor for the Nevada Athletic Commission even went so far as to query the veterinarians dealing with doping in horse racing and the central figure in the nation’s largest doping scandal.
The result: The Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), which signed a deal this week with Golden Boy Promotions to test Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto before their Feb. 11 welterweight rematch in Las Vegas.
“It’s taken a long time to put this together and it’s been a daunting task,” said Goodman, who began the process of creating VADA not long after she left the Nevada Athletic Commission in 2005. “When I first started talking to people, I saw that (doping) was rampant and largely ignored by many state commissions, who do little to no testing.”
Each state athletic commission conducts tests for steroids and some other performance-enhancing drugs for boxing and mixed martial arts events. Out-of-competition testing is a rarity, and if it’s done at all, athletes tend to get up to 72 hours of notice — plenty of time for fast-acting testosterone and many other drugs to clear the body.
That’s where VADA steps in. One or both fighters involved in a match can hire VADA, which will conduct unannounced testing, and any positives would then be passed along to state commissions. The commissions then could move to suspend the offending fighter.
“I think this is going to explode on to the scene, and I see it taking over,” Tony Morgan, Berto’s trainer, told FOXSports.com. “We are excited to be the first event VADA is working.”
The Voluntary Anti-Doping Association is just that: voluntary. An athlete who signs a contract with the nonprofit agency can leave the program at any time — at least before a positive test — without any repercussions. The athlete is still subject to state commission tests.
Goodman says she knows not all promoters — who often spend millions to hype a major match — will welcome increased scrutiny of performance-enhancing drugs.
“Some promoters would feel that we’re their worst nightmare,” Goodman said.
The novel approach to anti-doping doesn’t end with the voluntary aspect of the program; how laboratories will test samples is also divergent.
Typically, samples taken from athletes are screened for TE ratios, a test that compares testosterone vs. epitestosterone in the body. (The use of synthetic testosterone would boost testosterone to abnormal levels; epitestosterone would remain unchanged.) It’s a less costly test, but studies have indicated it can detect the use of such banned substances only within a few hours after they are administered.
Instead, VADA will use the more costly carbon isotope testing as its first screening method — a step taken by no other major sports league or independent program, such as the US Anti-Doping Agency. The carbon isotope test, which can detect the use of steroids and testosterone up to weeks out, was pushed for by Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Lab Co-Operative (BALCO).
“That decision came about after talking to several individuals,” Goodman said. “We want to make sure somebody isn’t using synthetic testosterone. We’re very excited to be able to do that.”
Conte has no official role at VADA and was one of many people interviewed with knowledge of doping athletes in the months leading up to the launch of VADA.
“Because of difficult lessons I’ve learned from personal consequences, I’ve been a strong sports anti-doping advocate for more than five years now,” said Conte, who served four months in prison for distributing steroids to several elite athletes, including track star Marion Jones. “I did an interview with Dr. Margaret Goodman about 18 months ago regarding the rampant use of drugs in combat sports. This is when we first discussed the idea of a voluntary anti-doping program such as VADA. I’ve been an enthusiastic and vocal supporter of this groundbreaking concept from the beginning.”
The additional testing that VADA is providing was hailed by the US Anti-Doping Agency.
“We are glad our efforts in prior fights have shown how important it is to have effective anti-doping programs in combat sports, but the detail is what makes the difference,” USADA spokeswoman Annie Skinner told FOXSports.com in an email.
VADA also counts among its ranks one of the more respected doping scientists, Rodrigo Aguilera, whose resume includes testifying in Floyd Landis’ appeal of his positive doping test that cost him the 2006 Tour de France title. VADA uses the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, a respected lab accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
VADA also plans to test athletes’ blood, which is necessary to identify human growth hormone. Doing so will enable VADA to check on hematocrit levels (the ratio of red to white blood cells), which not only tell if an athlete is blood doping but can also foretell disease.
“There are cheaper way of doing things, but we also care about the health of the fighter,” Goodman said.