During the 90’s and early noughties, Hellebuyck and wife Kavanaugh owned a number of properties in the US running mecca of Albuquerque. Here they rented out rooms to elite athletes: at one stage seventeen Olympians from seven nations trained together for the ’96 Olympics.
According to a number of sources, this elite running community scene involved the use of performance-enhancing drugs by many of the visitors.
The principle substance of abuse was erythropoietin (EPO). EPO, a hormone produced by the kidneys, stimulates the production of oxygen-bearing red blood cells. An increased level of EPO in the body can enhance the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and –hence – the runner’s endurance.
According to sources, EPO was easy to come by in Albuquerque. The supplier? Leonid Shvetsov.
Hellebuyck claims that Shvetsov, the star Russian marathoner who was part of Hellebuyck’s training group for the 1996 Olympics, became his EPO supplier.
A medical doctor by training, Shvetsov is a two-time Olympian and the Russian national record holder in the marathon.
Shvetsov won the 89km Comrades Marathon in South Africa twice, and is the current course record holder for both the up (5:24:49) and down (5:20:49) races in 2007 and 2009, respectively.
According to multiple sources, Shvetsov was also the “prominent distributor” of EPO in Albuquerque to whom Shawn had referred.
In addition to Hellebuyck, several athletes who trained in Albuquerque at the time say Shvetsov was using and distributing EPO – though none of these runners, except for Hellebuyck, ever claim they saw the Russian inject himself or anyone else with the drug. Elite Canadian athlete Bruce Raymer says Shvetsov repeatedly tried to sell him EPO and other drugs in March 2003.
“Leonid quite openly kept a stockpile of EPO in his refrigerator, behind the milk and orange juice,” Raymer says. “He approached me with the offer to sell me some EPO…. He quoted me a price for one cycle – $400 (R2700). I told him no thanks … he came back to me several times, reducing the price to $300 (R200). It was kind of bizarre…I almost wanted to buy some EPO just to get him off my back.”
The Russian then offered to sell him the banned clenbuterol. Raymer refused this offer as well. Besides the EPO and clenbuterol, Raymer claims to have seen the anabolic steroid stanozolol and the steroid oxandrolone.
Jose Moreira (a Brazilian distance runner) says he would come upon Shvetsov boiling syringes on the stove at one or two in the morning. “Leonid was the rumoured supplier of EPO in Albuquerque. He was the master of the whole thing,” says Moreira.
“Everybody in the sport knew about Leonid,” says South African Mark Plaatjes, winner of the marathon in the ’93 World Championships in Athletics. “On the circuit, he always had the reputation as a doper. That’s what Leonid did.”
“Leonid wasn’t clean, and never had been in my book,” says British long-distance runner, Peter Whitehead. “His times in training didn’t come close to matching up with his times in races.”
“Friend of Leonid,” in fact, became shorthand around Albuquerque for any runner on the juice.
Hellebuyck claims to have approached Shvetsov with interest in EPO in 2001. The next day, Shvetsov arrived at his house with EPO, and injected Hellebuyck.
Shvetsov retired from competition in 2009. Contacted at his home in Saratov, Russia, where he now operates a car-service business and coaches Russian distance runners, Shvetsov denies ever taking any performance-enhancing drugs – or providing them to athletes (including Hellebuyck) in Albuquerque. Shvetsov says he occasionally advised Hellebuyck on how to deal with pain issues.
Shvetsov said he was surprised that he had such a reputation, and again denied any involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. He attributed the allegations to other athletes’ “envy” of his success, general suspicion of Russian athletes, and the fact that he is a medical doctor by training. “It’s a Russian thing in the world sport,” he said. “Because I have a doctor’s education, to many it’s a direct confirmation that, ‘Oh, he is a source, he is a such and such.’ No one caught me on anything.”
As for the needles Moreira saw boiling on the stove, Shvetsov says, “They were for B12 injections.”
Once this news broke, Shvetsov denied the allegations. Read his statement .