Supplements Awareness

Risky Business; Olympian Curt Clausen researches the more than two dozen products he uses, but labels may not tell the whole story
Brian Cazeneuve

In December 2001 Curt Clausen, a two-time
U.S. Olympic racewalker, was fighting muscle fatigue after his 100-mile-a-week workouts. Clausen, who lives at the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, Calif., received a tip from Pavle Jovanovic, a bobsledder who had just qualified for the Salt Lake Games. Jovanovic suggested to Clausen a number of protein and carbohydrate supplements, which claimed to be free of banned substances. But when Clausen subsequently researched the products on the Internet and saw that they were marketed mostly to bodybuilders, he decided to pass on them. The following month Jovanovic tested positive for 19-norandrosterone and 19-noretiocholanolone, both metabolites of the banned steroid nandrolone. Although he blamed the test result on the contamination of one of the supplements he was taking, Jovanovic was dropped from the Olympic team and suspended from competition for two years. "[Our] message has never wavered," says U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief Terry Madden, whose group oversees the domestic testing of Olympic athletes. "You cannot take supplements without assuming the risks. A number of positive tests have been blamed on contaminated supplements, and athletes have been warned for years about the dangers and health risks associated with taking dietary supplements. This is not an athlete health issue. I believe it is a health issue for the American public."

Although he did not follow Jovanovic's recommendations, Clausen, like many other athletes, takes supplements while he is in training--up to 30 pills, powders and drinks each week. "Replacement of carbs and electrolytes is too difficult through normal food consumption," insists Clausen, who says he eats five or six meals a day and is still a rail-thin 6'2", 165 pounds, "but you have to educate yourself as to what's safe and what's legal."

The USADA has a website that lists what is and is not banned and also an information help-line that offers a standard refrain for inquiring athletes: Supplement at your own risk. Product labels can be rendered meaningless if, for example, a manufacturer omits an ingredient from the label, or if the same equipment is used to make different types of tablets, allowing the residue of a banned substance to contaminate one that is not banned. A recent International Olympic Committee study of over-the-counter products showed that 45 out of 240 manufactured in the
U.S. tested positive for banned ingredients that were not listed on their labels.

Clearly, no matter how many labels he reads or doctors he consults, Clausen is navigating a minefield of supplement consumption. In August 1999 he missed out on the first medal ever by a
U.S. walker at a world championship when he placed fourth in the 50K race in Seville. But two years later he was awarded third place, after Russia's German Skurygin, the gold medalist, was disqualified for a doping violation he blamed on supplements he'd taken during an illness. --Brian Cazeneuve


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