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Dave Castro on … Enhancing Performance

In this Web exclusive, the director of CrossFit’s Training Department (and the man behind the Games) discusses the use of performance-enhancing drugs in CrossFit.


What is CrossFit doing regarding performance-enhancing drugs?

We test a lot. We test everyone who qualifies for the Games from the Regionals. Every athlete at the Games is tested, including the teams, as soon as Regionals are over. And then we have a list of 10 to 20 people who we randomly pick to test throughout the whole year. Rich Froning and Jason Khalipa were on that list and last year they were tested probably 15 times. And it’s completely random. They’re called up or they’re told to be home at a certain time and someone drives out there and tests them.

Right now, I don’t think anyone who’s winning is cheating. I guarantee you there are thousands of people who tried to get to the Regionals that are using steroids. Yeah, there are probably people at my skill level who are using steroids to do a little bit better and it doesn’t matter. There are people who are using steroids, trying to get stronger, trying to get an edge, who aren’t even qualifying for the Regionals. And then I imagine there are a few people at Regionals somewhere in the field who are using steroids who we’re not catching, but they’re not the ones qualifying. The ones who are good enough to get there are getting tested and are not using steroids.

Are there any of them who are potentially working with companies like BALCO or some of these organizations that have designer drugs and stuff that we’re not able to test for yet? Potentially, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I think we’re getting closer to there than ever, but I don’t … maybe at this point in the CrossFit Games is the tipping point for those really expensive designer drugs to be making their way in, the stuff that we can’t test for. But I’d like to think it’s not going to be for the next couple of years.

How do you plan to address it?

Well, I mean we evolve as drug testing evolves. It evolves us and the testing evolves with us. But in other sports, there is always that stuff that you can’t test for. But that edge is super expensive, and it’s what nations or big NFL or professional sports teams do, and that’s what I think is making it prohibitive to our individuals. I don’t think a lot of our athletes can afford to go there. And then the guys who can afford to go there, let’s say Rich [Froning], he’s not going to. You know what I mean? So right now, we’re in this interesting period, where I don’t think they’re using designer expensive stuff. But I do think there will be a point when it’s possible that guys will try to go there. And for now, yeah, we aggressively test.

What about the women and teams?

Yeah, women, teams — they all pass. And then people always make the argument that they could cycle on in the offseason and cycle off. Yeah, you know what, you totally could. Except for the people on the list that we test, they can’t. Mat Fraser’s on the list this year. Who else? Last year, Ryan Fisher was on the list. We put people who are like, that guy might be using … Dan Bailey’s on the list. We put those people on the list. Like when you look at someone and go, “Hmmm, I wonder if that guy’s using.” They’re gonna end up on the list.

Which individual women are you testing?

Sam [Briggs]’s on the list. Cami [Leblanc-Bazinet]’s on the list. The champions for sure are. And then I don’t know who else. Oh, Lauren Fisher is on the list. And they can’t refuse because if they do, they’re excluded. We had someone pop last year at Regionals. I think we had one or two non-qualifiers pop for steroids and then one person from Florida pop. She had a stimulant that was prohibited, but it was more of an over-the-counter-type thing. We’ve had that multiple times over the years, and then there was one athlete in Canada — yeah, anabolic steroids. And at the Games, in 2009, we had one athlete pop for steroids, too, because in 2009 we tested everyone. And they were like, here’s all the masking agents he took to mask these things he took. We didn’t out him only because at the time he was an active-duty Marine, so we didn’t want to. We told him, hey, you know, you’re busted. Now we probably would [out him] even if he was an active-duty Marine, but then we decided not to.

Why? Just to make a statement that CrossFit is clean?

Yeah, for the sport. And you know, I’m not gonna sit here and tell you CrossFit’s clean. I’m not gonna do that. Because you know what? It’s not fucking true. There are millions of people doing CrossFit, and there are good people and there are dirtbags doing it, and I know for me to say CrossFit’s clean, I’d be lying to myself as much as I’m lying to you. I am going to tell you, though, that I think the top athletes are, and I know the people who win and qualify are because we test them. I do have confidence there, but I don’t have confidence that all the people who even do the Open and Regionals are clean.

Aggressive testing is a responsible choice, though, because people wonder about CrossFit athletes and where their bodies come from.

Here’s where the body’s coming from. It’s this training regimen and training program that honestly no one’s ever seen before. And I hate when people say this stuff’s been around forever or this type of training’s been around forever. Really, when you look at physical training and training with weights, it really hasn’t been around forever. It’s really been around for 100 years or so, and there’s been plenty of innovation. There’s plenty of innovation that we’ve done and it’s very different from the traditional way of training. And years of that make you look like Camille if you have the work ethic she does and her genetics. There’s a lot of that in play.

Certainly you can tell the difference between a bodybuilder and a CrossFit athlete.

In my military career, I saw that. I was a SEAL for 12 years and I had a teammate who was like as big as Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. He was a bodybuilder, all juiced out, but in the field, he sucked. He had no gas, and he couldn’t carry his own weight. He just looked really good. And that’s not CrossFit. CrossFitters perform, and even people who are just getting into CrossFit who don’t look like that are able to feel the benefits of it. And that’s a really cool thing.

For more with Dave Castro, pick up the July/August 2015 issue of The Box, on newsstands now. Or click here to subscribe.