Coors is safer than tea by Les Earnest
Alexi Grewal won a gold medal in cycling at the Los Angeles Olympics shortly after admitting that he took ephedrine during an international stage race. This was facilitated by U.S. Olympic Committee and cycling officials who had a conflict of interest that would not be fixed for another 16 years. A number of other political machinations were also involved.
Originally published in the August 1988 issue of Cyclops USA
Republished by Pappillon with the permission of Les Earnest.
[Bracketed statements in italics below…are explanatory remarks added in November 2005.]
1984 was a banner year for cycling — after a 72 year drought, U.S. riders won eight Olympic medals. It was the year that the U.S. Cycling Federation (USCF) adopted detailed medical control regulations for the first time. It was also a year of unsurpassed political skullduggery among the officers and directors of the Federation.
Up until then, USCF drug testing regulations said, in effect, “Thou shalt not take drugs,” but specified no testing procedure. I was working on more complete drug testing regulations when an incident just before the Olympics pointed up inadequacies in the drug testing program. The sixth stage of the Coors International Bicycle Classic that year was a circuit road race in Aspen, Colorado, which was also the home town of rider Alexi Grewal, who tested positive for a prohibited substance after that race. This was an awkward situation because he was a member of the U.S. Olympic Team.
As I eventually figured out, no riders could have tested positive at the Coors race before 1983, even though drug testing was required by international regulations. I had started officiating there in 1978 when this race was still called the Red Zinger. There was a great show made of medical control in the Red Zinger/Coors. Top finishers and a few other riders selected at random in each race had to provide urine specimens under the surveillance of a race official. I found it remarkable that no one ever tested positive, given that there are many non-prescription drugs that contain prohibited substances. In fact, after a couple of years of this, I asked UCI International Commissaire Artie Greenberg how the riders managed to keep so clean. His reply was, “Don’t ask.”
Of course, I immediately became more inquisitive and eventually learned that the promoter was unwilling or unable to pay for lab tests. Instead, after urine samples were collected, they were carefully flushed down the nearest toilet. While the “toilet test” was a great waste of time for all involved, it helped keep up the pretense that this was a “clean race” and probably deterred some riders who didn’t know about the testing procedures.
One rider managed to get suspended for failing the “toilet test.” This happened to Australian Phil Anderson in 1978 in Vail when he was distracted by a young lady’s invitation to visit her place just after he won the race and somehow didn’t return to take the test. As near as I can tell, the toilet test continued to be used at the Coors race through 1982. Real testing was carried out for at least some stages beginning in 1983, when rider Mike King of Ohio got caught for ingesting ephedrine.
In 1984, race officials learned of the results of Grewal’s positive test from the Aspen race the next day, just before the Washington Park Criterium in Denver. A retest of the second sealed sample was immediately called for and Grewal’s manager, Len Pettyjohn, went to the Roche Laboratory to observe the testing procedures. I went too, given that it would be my responsibility to suspend Grewal if this test also turned out positive. We watched the testing from the opening of the bottle to the announcement by the technician that there was a prohibited substance in the sample. Neither Pettyjohn nor I knew enough about lab testing procedures to understand what we were observing, however.
As soon as Alexi’s disqualification was announced, he told the press that he had drunk a special Chinese herbal tea called “Chi Power” that had been given to him by a woman who regularly gave him after-race massages. He showed them the box, which listed ephedra as a principal ingredient. The name of the prohibited stimulant “ephedrine” is derived from ephedra. Alexi seemed to be doing his best to convict himself.
However, under the UCI rules at that time Grewal could be suspended only on the basis of urine tests showing that he had taken a prohibited substance. As Chairman Board of Control, I was obligated to suspend him for 30 days, which would take him out of the Olympics. I issued the suspension, but also suggested to his manager that they appeal it and make the testers prove their conclusion. He did.
I had already conducted one investigation involving Grewal a short time before. It was no secret that he was not a favorite of the coaching staff, especially National Team Coach Eddie Borysewicz. Since bicycle road racing is basically a team sport, the coaches want team riders, whereas Alexi was a loner. Shortly after the Olympic Selection Races in the Spokane area, I received a report from a plausible source claiming that Eddie B. had counseled other leading riders to try to keep Alexi from finishing high enough to qualify. I interviewed some other people who confirmed much of the story, but decided that official action was not needed inasmuch as Alexi had qualified in spite of the possible conspiracy.
A Political Snit
Given that there was an appeal of the doping suspension, a jury was needed to hear it. This had to be done in a hurry because the Olympics were about to start and the bicycle road race, Grewal’s specialty, was to be on the first day. Among the bureaucrats, there had been a lot of planning and political maneuvering leading up to the ’84 Olympic Games, all of which complicated the situation.
Tom Boyden, the Appeals Chairman, was supposed to appoint juries, but unfortunately he was sulking over an earlier run-in with me and declined to act. Boyden’s pique arose shortly before the Coors when I thwarted his attempt to appoint fellow Texan Willy Coy as appeals jury foreman for that race. I knew that there were two main things wrong with his proposal: the concept and the individual.
I had been a race official at the Red Zinger/Coors Classic for six years by this time and had observed the various ways that appeals of race decisions had been handled. Usually, a panel of senior race officials from the women’s race would review appeals from the men’s race and vice versa. Of course, this arrangement gave an opportunity for mutual back-scratching among the officials, but it seemed to produce just decisions nearly all of the times I saw it used.
I expected that Ian Emmerson, who was to be Chief Commissaire of the men’s race, would not take kindly to the use of a different jury arrangement. Emmerson was a British commissaire who had run the Milk Race in Britain for a number of years. I had appointed Beth Estes as the women’s Chief Commissaire and knew her views regarding the proposed jury foreman: Willy Coy and she had tangled wildly the year before when she was chief referee of the Tour of Texas and he was chief judge.
The political picture had been further muddied by incidents at the Tour of Texas, a few months before the Coors. I had decided to try a new officiating arrangement there, using three officials instead of one to make the main race decisions. The Board of Control had selected Andy Bohlmann to be chief referee and the Texas district representative selected her husband,
Willy Coy, and Tom Boyden to complete the trio.
Unfortunately, that arrangement led to an instant disaster, with Boyden and Coy doing their officious best to screw things up. On March 9, 1984, shortly after the race started, I sent a telegram telling them to revert to the traditional chief referee structure and requesting that Andy Bohlmann continue as chief referee.
Tom Boyden’s reaction to that was to appeal my decision, even though it was clearly not appealable under USCF regulations and he, as Appeals Chair, had a gross conflict-of-interest in ruling otherwise. Tom arranged for a hearing of his appeal, then both presented evidence on his own behalf and, acting as Appeals Chairman, advised the jury on which evidence they could consider. Later, he reviewed the hearing results, which he claimed to have “won,” and approved them. When asked if he thought that this was a conflict-of-interest situation, he asserted that it clearly was not!
It appeared to me that Tom Boyden had undertaken the appointment of Willy Coy as jury foreman at Coors as a set up: he shared Coy’s intense dislike of Beth Estes, whose decisions Coy would get to review. I tried to reason with Tom about not proceeding with this appointment. Others, including Coors promoter Michael Aisner and Colorado district representative Yvonne vanGent also got into the discussion. USCF President Phil Voxland then decided that he should settle the dispute, so he wrote a letter saying that the decision was entirely up to Tom, which would have meant that Coy was to be Foreman.
I had taken no official position on the issue up to that point, but seeing a disaster in the making, I immediately wrote a letter to Voxland noting that the race permit for Coors had been issued over my signature and that I had decided that no special jury foreman would be needed. This was admittedly a high-handed act on my part. Tom and Phil frothed a bit, as I expected, then gave up.
In view of that recent history, it was not surprising that Tom Boyden would not appoint a jury now that I needed one. Given that I was effectively the prosecutor, it didn’t seem right for me to appoint the jury. In fact, it was precisely that issue that had gotten me into cycling politics five years earlier – it had been standard practice in the USCF for the prosecutor to appoint the jury, which was a gross conflict-of-interest. I had managed to get that bylaw fixed and did not wish to revert.
Free-lancing a bit, I finally got USCF President Phil Voxland to appoint a jury from among disinterested race officials who were present at the Coors Classic.
Showdown in Boulder
Alexi Grewal’s hearing before the hastily-assembled jury of appeals took place in a large hotel in Boulder, Colorado beginning at about 6:30 PM on July 22, 1984, the last day of the Coors Classic. Prior to the hearing, USCF Executive Director Dave Prouty had helped Grewal obtain the services of Dr. Robert Voy, who was Chief Medical officer of the U.S. Olympic Committe, to act as an expert defense witness for Grewal. I called on the pharmacist who supervised the drug testing process at the Roche Laboratory.
[Given that Dave Prouty had a responsibility to enforce anti-doping regulations and that this was also Dr. Voy’s primary responsibility in the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), it is remarkable that they were working together to help Grewal beat the doping charge. Of course, given that winning Olympic medals is a primary goal of both USCF and USOC, members of these organizations had a conflict of interest regarding anti-doping enforcement. Dr. Voy, who apparently viewed the testing of USOC athletes as something that he alone should do, had an additional motivation in this case – the hiring of an outside lab to do the testing, who he evidently viewed as a competitor. This conflict would not be removed until 16 years later, at the time of the 2000 Olympic Games, when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and its U.S. counterpart, USADA, took over the responsibility for enforcement.
In the early 1980s I had attempted to negotiate with Dr. Voy on behalf of USCF to get drug testing done at certain events. He consistently declined to commit to anything. He resigned from USOC in the late 1980s and in 1991 published a book titled “Drugs, Sports and Politics” (ISBN 0880114096) that blamed a number of people for the ongoing failure to enforce anti-doping measures. However Dr. Voy seems to have overlooked his own complicity in this matter, as exemplified by the Grewal case. In 1998 I saw a newspaper article saying that he was running a sports medicine clinic in Las Vegas. Seems like the right kind of place for him.]
During the course of the hearing, it was brought out that asthma medication that Grewal was taking and had disclosed at the time of the test, namely Albuterol, contained a substance in the same general class as ephedrine. Dr. Voy asserted that the testing methods used could not reliably distinguish between the prohibited substance and the asthma medication, given that both were in the class of drugs known as phenylethylamines. Dr. Voy claimed that mass spectrophotometry should have been used to distinguish the two.
The Roche Labs witness remarked that his lab didn’t have such equipment and his attempted refutation of Voy’s claims were not sufficiently convincing. I later learned that some of Voy’s testimony was apparently a bit “imaginative,” but I didn’t have anyone there to refute him at that time. The jury went into seclusion around midnight and deliberated until near dawn. They finally decided that the tests had not been sufficiently discriminating, so the suspension was overturned.
I had mixed feelings about the result. Deep down, I really wanted to see Grewal have a shot at the Olympics, but his case revealed substantial weaknesses in the testing procedures. He was almost certainly guilty of the drug infraction, given that he had admitted drinking tea laced with ephedrine, but, luckily for him, he happened to have taken the “right” medication that confused the results and the laboratory staff was not smart enough to realize it.
Afterward, Coors Classic promoter Mike Aisner was quoted by Velo-news as saying, “I feel now in retrospect the way the whole thing has been handled with the Alexi trial that it worked itself out for the best. That they found the proper loophole without damaging the legitimacy of the Coors Classic test.” This was typical Aisner malarkey, of course. The appeals jury had actually concluded that the “Coors Classic test” had been incompetently administered.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
I was fortunate to be able to get Phil Voxland to appoint a makeshift jury of appeals, given that that I had just concluded a political shoot-out with him a short time before. Voxland had earlier shown outstanding political savvy in getting himself elected USCF President by a group that thought they were selecting a puppet. A long-lived political cabal based in the New York-New Jersey area had managed to control the USCF Presidency continuously from the time the organization was founded in 1920 until 1982. There were a number of explanations for their ongoing success, most of them crooked, but that is another story.
The cabal had passed the presidency around among its own members for all but 9 years out of the organization’s 62 year history. Cooperative directors from St. Louis and Milwaukee were permitted to fill those brief periods. In 1982, President Mike Fraysse decided not to run for office again, even though he had another year of eligibility. He evidently realized that he couldn’t stay in office through the next Olympics anyway because of the constitutional maximum of four years in office without a break.
Phil Voxland, a computernik on the staff of the University of Minnesota, came under consideration as a potential replacement. In his earlier dealings with the Board, Voxland gave the impression of being a rather meek individual; just the kind that the cabal could easily control. When they eventually settled on Voxland as their candidate, I was smiling to myself. I had worked enough with Phil to know that he was a lot smarter than anyone in the cabal. I figured that they were in for a surprise.
It didn’t take long to happen. As soon as Voxland was elected, he became his own man and started fiddling the cabal and everyone else with obfuscations and ambiguities. This caused considerable consternation among those who thought they were going to be pulling the strings. I supported nearly all of Voxland’s programs, but I noticed in 1983 that he was beginning to be afflicted with a common disorder of higher office: delusions of grandeur. He started trying to bypass the rules by personally appointing committees for which Board of Directors’ approval was required under the Bylaws and by attempting to usurp power in other ways.
The Federation had been preparing for some time for participation in the 1984 Olympics by both athletes and race officials. There had been a number of training courses for riders given at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs during 1983-84 and two courses were given for UCI National Commissaires (officials qualified to work on international races)
in anticipation of the need for support officials at the Olympics.
Late in 1983, President Voxland received a request from the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC) to nominate 10 National Commissaires for the Olympics. The Board of Control, which I chaired at that time, expected this and we planned to select from among the people who qualified themselves by attending one of the National Commissaires training courses. After the second such course there would be 41 to choose from.
Just before the Board of Directors’ meeting in January 1984, Voxland told me that he had decided to nominate the Olympic officials himself! I pointed out to him that he was out of line; that one of the responsibilities of the Board of Control, as listed in the Bylaws, was to “establish policies and standards for certification and appointment of race officials.”
Voxland’s argument was that the request had been sent to him, which meant that the LAOOC was asking him personally to do the nominating. I said “Who-in-Hell did you expect them to send it to? You are the President and one of your jobs is to direct outside requests to the appropriate body within the Federation.” Voxland continued to argue that it was a personal communication to him, not a request to the USCF. I said something unprintable and walked away.
I began planning for the selection of race officials to work all of the major events that year, including the Olympics. I sent out a list of events to all Category 1 and 2 officials and invited applications. I also formed a subcommittee to select appointees. It was composed of Board of Control members who did not wish to be considered themselves. Though I would have liked to work the Olympics, it would have been a conflict-of-interest to put myself there. Besides, doing the selection of other commissaires properly took precedence over my personal interests.
Phil Voxland telephoned a few weeks later, saying that he had decided on a list of nominees for the Olympic commissaire positions and that he wanted to read them to me. I said it that was not his responsibility and that he should stop intruding on Board of Control business. Essentially ignoring my remarks, he read me a list of names. I told him that I recognized some of them as being qualified officials and others I didn’t know anything about. I further remarked that if he proceeded with this foolishness, it would result in severe embarrassment to the Federation.
Voxland apparently sent his list to the LAOOC a short time later, but didn’t have the guts to send me a copy. I heard about it through the grapevine and promptly sent a letter to LAOOC, with a copy to Voxland, warning them not to act on Voxland’s letter because it was an unauthorized communication. Nevertheless, LAOOC sent out letters to the people on Voxland’s list, inviting them to work at the Olympics. A number of officials who were not on his list then initiated a lawsuit against the Federation, alleging that improper selection procedures had been used. They were right, of course.
Kicking the President’s butt
Things came to a head in the Spring of 1984, when several members of the cabal and friends signed a petition requesting a special meeting of the USCF Board of Directors. It took only 5 directors at that time to call such a meeting. Their goal was to fire both Voxland and Prouty, put one of their own people in the presidency, and find a more malleable Executive Director.
Mike Fraysse, who was Secretary of the Federation, arranged to hold the meeting in Chicago instead of the usual location, Colorado Springs. Chicago had the advantage from his viewpoint that it was much closer to the East Coast, so that those who had organized the conspiracy would not have to travel so far, and that the Executive Director would not have local office support. Unfortunately, holding the special meeting there instead of the Olympic Training Center cost the USCF (i.e. the riders) something over $10,000 more because of the extra cost of travel, food, and accommodations. Of course, mundane matters such as that were of little concern to those bent on a coup.
Dave Prouty took the precaution of having his lawyer scrutinize the meeting notice. The lawyer’s written opinion was that that it did not meet USCF constitutional requirements, hence the meeting couldn’t conduct any business. When we met on May 5, it became apparent that the conspirators didn’t have enough votes to bring about an overthrow anyway, so eventually everyone was persuaded to have an official meeting, despite the improper notice, given that we had come all that way at great expense.
I didn’t want to overthrow either Voxland or Prouty, but I did want to zap Voxland on the Olympic commissaires issue, so I mounted an attack. It was an easy victory; the Board adopted a resolution stating unequivocally that it was the Board of Control’s responsibility to select the race officials who were to assist at the Olympic Games.
My committee proceeded with the selection of 10 officials and forwarded their names to the LAOOC. I had obtained a copy of Voxland’s list in the meantime but had carefully not read it in order to avoid being influenced. As it turned out, half of those on Voxland’s list were also on our list. Nearly all of the differences were attributable to an oversight by Voxland: he had selected several officials who had very little track experience. Given that the commissaires were to spend most of their time working at the track, those selected should all have had substantial experience in that venue.
After the LAOOC was notified of the USCF Board of Directors’ decision and received my list of nominees, they proposed a compromise: to appoint the union of the two lists. I accepted, recognizing that someone would certainly sue if it wasn’t handled that way. Thus it was that we had 15 U.S. commissaires at the L.A. Olympics instead of 10.
Do roads need to be directed?
Late in 1983, USCF President Phil Voxland and Vice President Mike Fraysse were appointed by FIAC as, respectively,
Chef du Piste and Chef du Route of the Olympic cycling events, which translate roughly to Director of the Track and Director of the Road. They seemed to be honorary appointments designed to keep cycling officials of the host country in the stands and out of trouble.
Mike Fraysse wasn’t satisfied with that — he wanted to be manager of the U.S. Olympic Cycling Team, a position that USCF staff physiologist Ed Burke also coveted. Ignoring conflict-of-interest, as usual, Fraysse pulled all the political strings within reach and got the job. Burke then lodged an appeal of this decision and lost. Even though Fraysse got the job, Burke was allowed to tag along in a lesser capacity and the two of them worked together on getting themselves and others into a heap of trouble.
Inasmuch as Mike Fraysse relinquished his appointment as Chef du Route, FIAC subsequently appointed me to that position, based on a recommendation from Voxland. They apparently felt that I had shown a substantial capacity for making trouble and that this would neutralize me.
Reacting to Fraysse’s conduct, Phil Voxland subsequently proposed a new bylaw that would prohibit directors from taking national team positions unless there was no one else who was qualified. It was passed by the USCF House of Delegates later that year, but would have no effect on Fraysse’s appointment. However, in September 1987, the Board of Directors voted to remove that restriction on themselves, so that they could again become world travelers at the expense of the Federation. I have arranged to have this conflict-of-interest restriction put on the agenda of the 1988 House of Delegates meeting in the hope that it will be re-imposed. [It was!]
Showdown at Mission Viejo
After months of planning, scheming, and back-stabbing, an assortment of bike racers including Alexi Grewal, a bloated number of race officials, and an assortment of useless dignitaries gathered on a sunny day at the suburban town of Mission Viejo, California, just north of the famous San Juan Capistrano Mission. We were disappointed that the Eastern Bloc countries had declined to come, apparently applying tit-for-tat in response to President Carter’s foolish political gambit that resulting in the U.S. withdrawal from the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
In my capacity as Chef du Route I soon found that there were some important decisions to be made in the V.I.P. area
where I was ensconced: they had one of the greatest collections of beer from around the world that I had ever seen, making it very hard to decide what to drink next.
The first time that I sat in the canopied grandstand at the finish line, some ushers rushed up and offered hors d’oeurvres. I didn’t understand why they were being so attentive until I later looked at the seat I was in and saw the label: “Archduke .” When a distinguished looking gentleman came in and sat just behind me, I decided it was time to casually stroll out for another beer, then take a ride around the race course in the follow car behind the pack in the women’s race.
The course appeared to provide an excellent test and required some bike handling here and there. I was most impressed with the many thousands of enthusiastic cycling fans around the entire route. I got back to the finishing line in time to see a glorious sprint finish in which U.S. riders Rebecca Twigg and Connie Carpenter broke away from the lead group and finished together for gold and silver, with Connie throwing her bike forward at the last moment to nip Rebecca, just as her husband Davis Phinney had taught her. There was a great photo taken just beyond the finish that later appeared in Velo-news, showing Connie kissing Rebecca’s cheek as they coasted down.
The men’s race was run in the hotter part of the day. I took a tour or two with the men’s pack, but finally decided that I could see better by watching the video monitors in the finish area, which showed the race from every aspect. I recall that Davis Phinney and Alexi Grewal were in the lead group as they started the last lap. On a sharp climb about halfway around, Grewal broke to a lead of 20 meters or so, but he was soon joined by Steve Bauer of Canada. The two then started pulling away from the other leaders. Having seen these two sprint against each other a number of times before, I was fairly certain that Alexi didn’t stand a chance to win. Bauer had an amazing sprint that he used to consistently blow away all North American riders other than Davis Phinney.
I was prepared to see Bauer win as they began their sprint up the final 200 meter ascent to the finish, but suddenly Alexi looked as if he had rocket assistance — he jumped away and finished with a clear lead. Under hindsight, there appeared to be three factors that made this sprint turn out differently from all the earlier ones: (1) it was a fairly steep climb to the finish, which favored Grewal’s climbing ability over Bauer’s raw speed, (2) Bauer apparently chose too large a gear and couldn’t spin it on the ascent, and (3) most important, Grewal seemed to reach down deeper than he had ever done before in that final burst. Thus, the loner from Colorado who had overcome coaching antipathy and a suspension for drug-taking had won himself a gold medal. Alexi seemed to thrive on adversity.
Equally important, Alexi passed the drug test at the Olympics. He mentioned to the press that he wasn’t drinking Chi-Power any more. The rest of the Olympic cycling events also went rather well, on the whole. U.S. riders ended up taking four gold, three silver, and two bronze medals in cycling. However, this sunny outcome soon came under a cloud.
 “Grewal: `I made a stupid mistake’,” Velo-news, Vol. 13, No. 12, Aug. 10, 1984.
 Ed Pavelka, “`Hearts beat fast’ for unforgettable week,” Velo-news, Vol. 13, No. 13, Aug. 24, 1984.