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HGH test advance bad news for cheats

It was the eighth story listed on ESPN.com Tuesday morning, below nuggets such as Jayson Williams getting at least 18 months in the slammer and Kobe Bryant returning to the court, but above Aaron Boone retiring.

The latter makes sense. If you’re going to break news about drug testing in sports, you should at least play it above some guy who has been linked to cheating.

It wasn’t considered the sexiest offering in another day of sports headlines — for the two people who care, Tiger Woods might not appear in another Gillette commercial — but there wasn’t a more important one than a British rugby player being suspended for using human growth hormone.

That sound you hear is thousands of athletes letting out a collective groan. Beating the system just got a whole heck of a lot tougher.


This is a breakthrough on par with silicon lasers and water desalination in California and someone uncovering the secret of Nicole Richie’s popularity.

You might never have heard of Terry Newton, but his doping scandal trumps any admitted by Mark McGwire or Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez or fill-in-your-superstar-cheater-here.

(OK, maybe not Manny’s, but only because the whole hormone-pregnancy angle still has us confused.)

Newton is the first athlete to be suspended for using HGH, the first to be disciplined for taking what until now was thought an undetectable drug, the first in more than six years of testing for the substance to get caught.

This isn’t big news in the world of sports and doping. It’s gargantuan.

It also means baseball today is again on the clock to prove itself seriously committed to cleaning its sport for good.

Hank Aaron in a story published Tuesday spoke about how he feels the game has done a decent job in this area. But now that an effective test for HGH has been proven, commissioner Bud Selig and his cronies need to take the next step and implement blood testing.

Or at least study the possibility like never before.

Professional sports can no longer hide behind the facade that even though HGH has unquestionably become a staple of all doping cycles, the slow-to-develop testing procedures made the expense of blood testing too large a price to pay. Not anymore.

"All of us who have helped develop a test wouldn’t put it in place if it wasn’t forensically sound and reliable," Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, told the New York Daily News. "Particularly in (Newton’s) case, it’s proof positive the test works."

There is a reason some NFL players have said one in three of their peers regularly takes HGH. It has been for some time as common a drug for athletes as steroids, just another way for them to build muscle and quicken recovery and hit more home runs and split the A gap faster and ride a bicycle as if it’s a Porsche.

Strenuous workouts can lead to tears and cuts in the muscle. HGH accelerates healing. It also increases bone growth, all reasons it is banned in major North American sports leagues.

The standard HGH cycle is three weeks, in which athletes inject the substance into their stomachs at night.

I’ll stick with Raisinets via oral consumption, thank you.

The problem with testing for HGH until now has been how quickly the substance leaves the system, but as with the hormone EPO, it appears those developing ways to catch cheaters are not as far behind today as last week. That should worry those athletes who have long viewed HGH as the drug without consequence, save those potential side effects like diabetes.

But, hey, as long as you land that multimillion dollar contract or gain the riches that come with a gold medal, what’s wrong with a little metabolic disorder causing excessive thirst and producing large amounts of urine?

The cynics have less to laugh about today, what with an athlete finally being caught for HGH via testing and anyone with a brain globally having long since dismissed the idea that sports stars use it not to gain a competitive advantage, but to heal faster from injuries.

(Insert laugh here.)

Newman is 31, and his suspension will end in November 2011. By late Tuesday afternoon, his story was down to No. 9 on the ESPN.com list.

But know this: There weren’t eight more important headlines on the day.

It might not be considered sexy news, but its long-term ramifications are endless.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618.

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