VANCOUVER (Reuters) - It is the knock on the door every athlete at the Vancouver Winter Games dreads.
The mysterious man from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has just stopped by like an old friend who happened to be in the neighborhood and thought he might surprise you.
But this is no friendly visit.
This is a doping spot check and while tester Ken Wright seems like a nice guy, he immediately makes it clear that this is serious business.
Ken confirms that I am part of the testing pool for the U.S. baseball team, informs me that it is 4:26 p.m. (0026 GMT) on January 30 and that I have been selected for an unannounced out-of-competition test.
He flashes his identification and tells me that from this point on I cannot leave his sight, not even for a second, until I have provided him with a urine sample.
Big problem, I warn Ken. If he had arrived just a few minutes earlier I would have had what he was looking for, but now we will have to spend some time getting to know each other.
Not to worry, says Ken, who has waited more than five hours to get a sample. I assure him I will not keep him that long.
A half pot of coffee, two sodas, a few glasses of water and two periods of the Toronto Maple Leafs-Vancouver Canucks ice hockey game and I am still waiting for inspiration to strike.
I wonder how it is that I can hold more liquid than a super tanker now, but during the night I could provide enough urine samples to keep a lab busy for a week.
We fill part of the time completing the meticulous paperwork that goes along with each test. Numbers and details are checked and double checked and then checked again before everything is packaged and shipped.
Like a traveling salesman, Ken empties the contents of a roll-aboard luggage full of doping kits and urine containers on to the kitchen counter for my inspection. He will not handle them again.
Later I will take one of each, fill both A and B samples, seal them and make sure the code number ‘1533750’ matches.
“What we are going to do now is sit and visit and talk,” says Ken.
I learn Ken is from Alabama and has been involved in the anti-doping cause since 1990 but knows very little about the ice hockey game I am enthralled with.
I explain to him, if he had not already guessed, that the 55-year-old sitting across from him is not actually a member of the U.S. baseball team but a journalist trying to de-mystify the drug testing process.
Becoming part of the testing pool started with an online tutorial and then submitting my whereabouts forms so testers would know where to find me every day of the year for one hour.
The tutorial is simple to navigate and fun using word games like “hangman” which, when I think about it, might not have been the best choice.
But the message is clear, anti-doping agencies are your friends.
The whereabouts forms, which have been a huge source of controversy, were not so easily completed by someone who finds it hard to know where he will be between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, not to mention three months from now.
In fact my doping experience included a failure to submit my whereabouts filings on time, resulting in a failure notice along with a stern warning and demands for an explanation.
Finally, one hour and 24 minutes I told Ken I was literally “Good to go.”
Ken followed me to the washroom where I was instructed to lift my shirt above my chest and drop your pants below the knees.
“You haven’t even bought me dinner,” I jokingly protested.
Despite the attempt at humor, the scene was unsettling having never before had anyone pay such close attention to me urinating.
But lots of water, coffee and soda have eased the pressure and we were soon back in the kitchen with a full jar.
The bottles are placed in plastic bags and dropped into a tight styrofoam container and sealed.
I am handed copies of all the paperwork, we shake hands and Ken tells me I will get results — good or bad.
As the door closes a bit of doubt begins to creep in.
I am sure the only thing I might test positive for is old age, but for a brief moment I wondered what might have been on the pizza I had the night before.
I also thought, what if the test came back positive? What if I was about to become one of the athletes I viewed with so much cynicism?
But that night there were no cold sweats, no tossing and turning wondering if I had just been caught and my athletic career was about to end.
I did not have to wonder if performance-enhancing drugs had cleared my system or if the masking agent worked.
I did not worry if a lifetime of hard work had just disappeared in a jar of urine.
I rolled over and quite easily fell asleep, but I before I did I could not help thinking if Marion Jones had slept so peacefully the night after she was tested.
Editing by Frank Pingue