From gold and silver to drugs and jail David Jenkins never ran from fate
DAVID JENKINS lives on a hill overlooking the Pacific, 87 miles south of Los Angeles, 35 miles north of San Diego. As the road winds up towards his house it becomes apparent that the higher you go, the bigger and more expensive the houses become. Jenkins lives near the top.
On entering his home, the first thing that catches the eye is a fridge filled with wine and champagne. To the side are book shelves; large photographic tomes of Edinburgh and Scotland feature, and there are stags and eagles rendered in bronze.
Jenkins, peering down through small, dark-rimmed glasses, offers a friendly greeting. Tanned, with lank brown hair and the lean build of the former athlete, he wears a loose, pale blue shirt, and black, flowing trousers, though he is so tall and rangy that they can’t quite reach his feet and flap at his ankles.
Jenkins, who turned 60 last month, is the Edinburgh Academy schoolboy turned international athlete turned convicted drugs smuggler, and I had wanted to interview him for a book I was working on. Although he doesn’t have a direct involvement in the story I wanted to tell – of the great 100m confrontation between Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis at the 1988 Seoul Olympics – he is connected to it indirectly. For one thing, he has something in common with Johnson, who became, after his positive drugs test in Seoul, a sporting pariah.
“If you go to the British Athletics website, there’s not much there about David Jenkins,” he says and snorts a brief, bitter laugh. But he still has the medals: silver for the 4x400m relay at the Munich Olympics; individual golds for the 400m at the 1971 European championships in Helsinki, and the 1975 European Cup in Nice; and another gold, from the 4x100m relay, for Scotland at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton.
Only knowing Jenkins by reputation – one that is dominated by the drugs rather than the medals – I had initially e-mailed him. Later, my phone rang. “David Jenkins,” said the voice. He was cautious, probing, asking far more questions than I was able to ask him. He was especially interested in the fact that I, too, was from Edinburgh.
When I explained that I wanted to speak to him to understand the context of his sport in the 1980s, he replied: “Oh yes, context is everything.” The call lasted 18 minutes, at the end of which he said he’d think about whether he’d speak. “Due diligence,” he called it, which, I later found out, included buying and reading a book I had written, and which I had mentioned during our phone conversation. He has a forensic interest in the details, as, doubtless, does his brother, Roger, a former athlete turned banker. Roger Jenkins was reported to be Britain’s best-paid banker when he worked for Barclays until a couple of years ago; now he lives in the States and, according to recent reports, dates Elle Macpherson.
Five days later, the even more notorious of the Jenkins brothers leads me into the living area of his house, where a Buddha sits in the corner, and the terrace looks out over the Pacific. He slumps into a big armchair, resting his feet on the coffee table, and stares at the ceiling – as he will do for most of the next two hours.
As he tells his story, it is clear that it has much in common with that of another athlete whose name is synonymous with drugs: the cyclist David Millar. They are similar in other ways, too; both hugely talented, charismatic and intelligent, middle-class and well-educated, but emotionally vulnerable. It also seems that for both Jenkins and Millar doping did not present itself as a simple black-or-white choice; rather, it was a process with an inevitable outcome.
Like Millar, who wore the yellow jersey in his first Tour de France, Jenkins was clean when, aged just 19, he became European 400m champion. He was naive about a shadowy aspect of his sport: not drugs, money. But he quickly learned. In his first race as European champion, he returned to the changing room where an official gave him a wad of money and said, “Buy everybody drinks!”
“I thought, buy everybody drinks? I can buy everybody drinks for a year!” But this kept happening. When he went back to run in Edinburgh, he was handed an expenses form. He put in a claim for £3. “And the official says, ‘I think you made a mistake.’ He takes the form, adds a couple of zeroes, and says, ‘OK?’”
A year later at the Munich Olympics, he had to sign a piece of paper that said he did not get paid for running. Did that trouble him? “Yes, it troubled me,” he says. “Because you’re lying. And I hadn’t been lying before. Nothing I’d done up to then involved lying. So, I started lying. I didn’t have a moral compass. My compass was provided by my surroundings, my environment. It wasn’t internal. So I drifted. And you pay the price for that eventually.”
Jenkins did not even have a conversation about drugs until after he had won his Olympic medal. But he knew what was going on. “Guys were reasonably open about it,” he says. Even after steroids were officially banned in 1975? Jenkins sits up, animated, “You could buy steroids over the counter in every European country we went to! The guys would stock up! They’d buy pharmacies out!”
In 1974, Jenkins, who had been feeling tired and anaemic, started injections of Vitamin B-12. They were entirely legal; but taking them via injections was another small step, he reflects now, on the path to steroids.
In 1975, still clean, he ran a British record 44.93 to win the US championships. It was the following winter, after doing a promotional event in Wolverhampton, that he took the decision to move on to steroids. “There were three of us, and we were running sprints,” he says. “Normally I’d get stronger as they went on. But we’re getting to sprint number eight, nine, and this guy – who I know well, who I should be hammering – is right with me. I have absolutely nothing left in the tank. But it was when we were coming out the shower, I saw him, and I thought: what the f*** has happened to you? His body had… “ he pauses, “… changed.”
He discussed it with a fellow athlete and friend, then found a doctor in Manchester who was supplying steroids to local gym-users and who gave him a prescription for Dianabol, an anabolic steroid. The irony is that Jenkins was a poor advert for what became his business. “I never ran as fast as I had before going on the drugs,” he says. Mainly this was because the doses were too big; he kept getting injured.
In the 1976 Olympics, he fell back to seventh in the 400m. He also suffered, he says, “a biomechanical reaction, a psychological reaction. And a serious emotional reaction.” How did that manifest itself? “Short temper. You’re not stable mentally. You don’t feel calm. You’re all over the place. I was just a mess.”
Again, Jenkins echoes Millar in noting that the first casualty of his drug-use was pleasure. He was “absolutely driven,” but sport was no longer fun; it was business. And eventually he took that to its literal conclusion. Having endured a miserable time at his third Olympics, in Moscow, he retired. He was only 28. Then he moved to San Diego with his American wife. To earn money, he began supplying protein tablets to trainers and coaches in gyms.
He was also in demand by athletes, eager to know about drugs. “By now it was open season,” says Jenkins. “You’d sit down and talk over a beer. And I was being approached by doctors, too. It’s not the drugs they’re wanting – they can go and get them. It’s the information they want: about the drugs, their half-life – how long they remain in the system – the testing.”
Jenkins’ research was done in the medical library, then he posted the information to the athletes, including some who competed in the 1984 Olympics, and “did very well – by which I mean medals.”
In 1986, he met Dan Duchaine, the author of a book, The Underground Steroid Handbook, that Jenkins had consulted. “I’d been working on a book about performance enhancement in sport. I wrote to Dan, he called me, and he said, ‘You gotta come and see me.’ So I went to meet him. It was like, frickin’, meeting Hitler – or a visitation thereof. I went to see him in Venice [beach] for lunch. Lovely restaurant.”
Soon after their meeting, Jenkins got a call from Duchaine who told him: “My connection just got busted in San Francisco.” Duchaine asked Jenkins to get him steroids from a lab in Mexico. Before too long, Jenkins was in business with Duchaine, supplying gym rats and athletes the length and breadth of the USA.
His life became one of “fear and excitement.” The fear came from “watching a movie and seeing people shot for $50,000, when I’m carrying $90,000 in the back of my car in a brown paper bag.”
“I knew it was wrong,” he adds. “I was getting worried. I decided I wanted out. The operation was going to be shut down.”
Later, Jenkins drives me to a restaurant, and, en route, he points out the spot where, in April 1987, he was arrested, on his way home from running the legitimate nutrition company that he maintained alongside the steroid business. When news emerged of Jenkins’ arrest – 36 others were arrested as well – it was reported that the steroid ring accounted for 70 per cent of the US market, and was worth £300 million.
In December 1988 he was sentenced to seven years in prison for conspiring to produce, smuggle and distribute steroids. “You had it all,” the judge told him. “You have brains, you’re bilingual… You have great health and a fantastic, God-given athletic ability. Then enters greed and the whole thing seems to go down the toilet bowl.”
Jenkins apologised to the court, saying the enterprise “had got out of control.” Despite the seven-year sentence, he was released after nine months in Mojave Desert Prison. “The prosecutor wanted to meet me; he wanted to know where the raw materials had come from, and how we’d done it. I told him.
“Plus,” adds Jenkins with a smile, “the prosecutor’s wife went to Edinburgh University at the same time as me.”
Once out of prison, he restarted the nutrition company. He has run this business ever since, in various guises, selling off products as they became successful – and clearly amassing considerable wealth. When he came out of prison he also admitted that, as well as smuggling steroids, he had used them as an athlete. “Telling the truth, finally, is liberating,” he says.
Again, like Millar, this sentiment seems genuine. Both have an evangelical air about them, as though nothing anybody thinks or says can bring them as low as they have been; as though their experiences have hardened them, given them a tough outer skin or carapace.
“From the moment you take the first pill it changes you,” says Jenkins. “You become a liar. You have to live with that lie for the rest of your life. There are some athletes in Britain who are doing that now, living a perpetual lie. I feel sorry for them, because they are in a living hell.”
• The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final, by Richard Moore, (Wisden Sports Writing) £18.99.
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