By Patrick Hruby
Page 2

News item: Track coach Trevor Graham claimed that American sprinter Justin Gatlin's recent positive steroid test was the result of a grudge-carrying massage therapist who rubbed testosterone cream into Gatlin's legs.

Sure. Sounds plausible. Even probable. Heck, isn't that one of those no-nos Nelson Algren warned us about?

Never play cards with a man named Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never accept a rubdown from a masseuse with an axe to grind.

OK, maybe not. Still, you have to hand it to the sports world's drug cheats -- what they might lack in scruples, they make up for in shamelessly creative excuse-making. From Barry Bonds' tainted "flaxseed oil" to Ben Johnson's spiked water bottle -- or was it a contaminated herbal drink? -- no one has ever actually failed a doping test.

Uh-uh. They've simply been the victims of unlucky circumstances, innocent and unwitting as the inmates at Shawshank. And O.J. Simpson.

With that in mind, Page 2 presents its first (but undoubtedly not last) Steroid Excuse Quiz. Take the test, and see if you can distinguish the real-world excuse from the ones we made up:

(1) When police found EPO and other performance enhancers in the home of Frank Vandenbroucke, the Belgian cyclist claimed the drugs were intended for:
A. His anemic dog.
B. His arthritic cat.
C. His diabetic goldfish.
D. His SARS-infected pet rock.

(2) At the Nagano Olympics, Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati claimed his positive marijuana test was caused by:
A. Secondhand smoke from a kickin' going-away party.
B. Secondhand smoke from a burning marijuana field, conveniently located behind his house.
C. Secondhand smoke trapped inside a DVD rental case for Cheech 'N' Chong's "Nice Dreams."
D. Secondhand smoke wafting out of Damon Stoudamire's carry-on luggage.

(3) Finger-wagging baseball slugger Rafael Palmeiro attributed his positive steroid test to:
A. A vitamin B-12 injection.
B. A coffee colonic.
C. Cellulite reduction cream purchased from QVC.
D. An entire bottle of Flintstones chewable vitamins.

(4) Tennis player Petr Korda blamed a positive nandrolone test at Wimbledon on:
A. Eating veal made from steroid-enhanced calves.
B. Chewing gum manufactured from pesticide-protected trees.
C. Wearing cologne produced in … a chemical plant!
D. Drinking water bottled in San Francisco's Bay Area.

(5) Cuban high jumper Javier Sotomayor blamed a number of positive cocaine tests on:
A. The CIA, and also the Cuban Mafia.
B. The KGB, and also the Hong Kong Triads.
C. The Freemasons, the Teamsters, Opus Dei, the Rothschilds, Skull and Bones and the sinister Jewish cabal that runs Mel Gibson's Hollywood.
D. The rain, 'cause the rain don't mind -- and the rain don't care!

(6) American sprinter Torri Edwards argued that her positive test for a stimulant was due to her consumption of:
A. A sugar pill.
B. Pixie Stix.
C. Ho-Hos and Twinkies, washed down with a 64-ounce Double Gulp
D. A single, fleeting sip of southern Sweet Tea.

(7) American cyclist Tyler Hamilton blamed a flunked blood doping test on:
A. A mysterious unborn twin.
B. An inexplicable third nipple.
C. Webbed feet.
D. A silent Scientology birth.

(8) American sprinter Dennis Mitchell blamed his too-high testosterone levels on:
A. Drinking five bottles of beer and having sex with his wife four times the night before the test.
B. Drinking two bottle of tequila and visiting the Gold Club with Patrick Ewing and Andruw Jones the night before the test.
C. Attending a Minnesota Vikings nautical outing the night before the test.
D. Downing a shot of absinthe and reading Wilt Chamberlain's autobiography the night before the test.

(9) German distance runner Dieter Baumann claimed his elevated nandrolone levels were the result of:
A. Spiked toothpaste.
B. Tainted hand soap.
C. Contaminated body lotion.
D. Extra-Strength Listerine, the kind that sword fights and swings on jungle vines.

(10) After testing positive for strychnine, Dutch cyclist Adri van der Poel faulted:
A. Eating a pigeon pie made from juiced racing pigeons raised by his father-in-law.
B. Eating rabbit stew made from roadkill found next to an unlocked gate at an animal testing lab.
C. Eating cookies baked by his absent-minded grandmother, who mistakenly used strychnine -- one of the most bitter substances known to man -- instead of sugar.
D. Eating a convenience store hot dog. Really, who knows what's in those things?

(11) American skeleton rider Zach Lund blamed a positive test for the banned stimulant finasteride on his use of:
A. A baldness cure.
B. A penis pump.
C. Lift shoes.
D. A Hummer H2.

(12) Spanish cyclist Roberto Heras blamed a flunked EPO test on:
A. A laboratory mix-up.
B. A wrong phone number.
C. A check lost in the mail.
D. A bank error not in his favor.

(13) British bobsled rider Lenny Paul blamed a flunked drug test on:
A. A plate of spaghetti bolognese.
B. A side of eggplant parmesan.
C. A slice of Neapolitan pizza.
D. I'm hungry.

(14) Spanish walker Daniel Plaza claimed his positive drug test was the result of:
A. Having oral sex with his pregnant wife.
B. Yuck.

(15) After a cleaning crew found needles, tubes and transfusion bags in the Olympic residence of Austria's nordic ski squad, a team coach insisted the equipment was used for:
A. Preventing colds by drawing blood, exposing it to a magnetic field and ultraviolet radiation, then reinjecting it into the body.
B. Preventing cancer by drawing blood, then letting patients die of hemorrhagic shock.
C. Saving money on overpriced Olympic liquor by drawing blood, then injecting hooch straight into skiers' veins.
D. Catching vampires by drawing and bagging blood, then putting the bags on fishing lines.

(16) Bulgarian tennis player Sesil Karatancheva blamed a positive steroid test on:
A. Being pregnant.
B. Her menstrual cycle.
C. Owning and enjoying the complete DVD sets of "Sex and the City" and "Friends."
D. Boobies.

(17) Russian hurdler Ludmila Engquist blamed a positive steroid test on:
A. Her vindictive ex-husband, who spiked her vitamins with steroids.
B. An angry barista, who sprinkled 'roids in her morning espresso.
C. A bodybuilding dentist, who injected her gums with steroids instead of Novocain.
D. Justin Gatlin's massage therapist.

(18) After testing positive for two different steroids, Australian kayaker Nathan Baggaley insisted that he:
A. Mistakenly drank his brother-in-law's steroid-laced carton of orange juice.
B. Mistakenly sat on his great-grandmother's Winstrol-dipped knitting needles.
C. Mistakenly chugged a bottle of his niece's HGH-reinforced baby formula.
D. Mistakenly washed down a plate of spaghetti Bolognese made from steroid-enhanced calves with a glass of orange juice spiked with Vitamin B-12 by his brother-in-law's angry ex-wife, who happens to be Justin Gatlin's massage therapist.

(19) American cyclist Floyd Landis speculated that his high testosterone/epitestosterone ratio found in an initial sample taken during the Tour de France was the result of:
A. Cortisone shots taken to ease the pain in his degenerating right hip.
B. Drinking beer the night before the test.
C. Thyroid medication.
D. All of the above.
E. Professor Plum with a candlestick in the conservatory.

(20) Attorneys for American distance runner Mary Slaney argued that her too-high ratio of testosterone/epitestosterone was the result of:
A. Her age, alcohol and the use of birth control pills.
B. Her eye color, wine coolers and a nicotine patch.
C. Scrap metal, some logs, a welder's mask -- in short, everything the A-Team needs to break out of jail.
D. Er, whatever Floyd Landis said.

Answer key: 1-18, a; 19, d; 20, a. No, really.

Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2. Sound off to Page 2 here.