Eddie B and the Americans at the 1984 L.A. Olympics

The Polish coach led Americans to success, with marginal gains and the then-acceptable practice of 'blood packing'.

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The following article is from the August 2016 issue of VeloNews. Eddie Borysewicz died in November 2020.

In 1977, Gerald Ford’s Commission on Olympic Sports declared the U.S. Cycling Federation to be a handicap for winning gold. The country’s previous medal-winning performance had come 67 years earlier, when Carl Schutte won bronze in 1912 in the now-defunct 198-mile individual time trial event.

Ford’s commission recommended the country hire European coaches if American riders hoped to beat the stronger riders from the sport’s epicenter.

Enter Eddie Borysewicz.

The U.S. Cycling Federation hired the Polish-born Borysewicz as its head coach. Known best as “Eddie B,” he brought training expertise and experience, as well as his very high expectations, and led the American squad to nine medals in the Los Angeles Games, four of them gold.

Less than a year later, Borysewicz’s reputation was forever tarnished by an article published in Rolling Stone entitled, “Olympic Cheating: The Inside Story of Illicit Doping and the U.S. Cycling Team,” which accused Borysewicz and the Americans of rampant blood doping. The piece and the sensational spin used by its author Richard Ben Cramer have influenced people’s understanding of the 1984 Games ever since.

In reality, Borysewicz was one of the most positive forces in American cycling, argues Mark Johnson in “Spitting in the Soup: Inside the Dirty Game of Doping in Sports.” Men like Greg LeMond, Davis Phinney, Ron Kiefel, and many others would likely have never accomplished what they did without him. His emphasis on incremental improvements preceded Team Sky’s marginal gains campaign by decades.

Furthermore, blood doping was not an issue in 1984. (It wasn’t even called doping at the time.) Neither the UCI nor the International Olympic Committee (IOC) considered the practice illegal. In the early 1980s, the United States Olympic Committee treated homologous blood doping—sometimes called “blood packing”— as a medically acceptable practice. Several medical journals praised the method.

Under the authority of U.S. Cycling Federation physiologist Ed Burke, the decision was made to transfuse riders, if they so chose. Some did, others did not once the practice was explained to them.

The nine cycling medals earned by the U.S. team were the highest of any nation. Women’s cycling made its debut on the Olympic program with the road race. Americans dominated, with Connie Carpenter (Phinney) and Rebecca Twigg winning gold and silver.

After the Games, the extent of blood doping within the team gradually came out. Eventually, one-third of the U.S. cycling team was revealed to have done it.

But doping isn’t all that has remained controversial about the L.A. Olympics. During the Games, nine drug positives were reported by lab scientist Don Catlin to the IOC; he never heard back. “Those positives never saw the light of day,” he later recalled.

Drug tests continued even after the Games closed, due to the number of track and field events during the final days. Eventually, Olympic medical director Tony Daly told Catlin to shut down the lab. He refused, and Catlin and his team eventually found 20 positive samples. The official tally, however, lists 11.

In the historical record, the IOC has cleansed the ’84 Games to be a more digestible and wholesome sell for public and corporate consumption.

Blood doping was banned by the IOC in June 1985.

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