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Conte, Anderson to begin BALCO prison sentences

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hours before he reported to federal prison for his leading role in a global sports steroid scandal, BALCO head Victor Conte promised on Thursday to redirect his life to fighting doping use by athletes.

A U.S. federal judge in October sentenced Conte, the owner
of the San Francisco Bay-area sports nutrition lab, to four
months in prison and four months home detention for steroid
distribution, starting on Dec. 1.

The high-profile case unveiled links between BALCO and top
athletes such as baseball slugger Barry Bonds and track and
field star Marion Jones, and prompted sports authorities to
beef up anti-doping rules.

"I feel that this is what had to happen," Conte told
Reuters in a rare interview as he prepared to leave for the
privately run Taft Correctional Institution. "It has enabled me
to make a contribution in fighting steroids in sport."

"I've done my best from the very beginning to be
accountable and this is the punishment that I have been given
by the court," he said. "I accept that punishment. I'd like to
serve my time and then move on and do what I can to live a
positive remainder of my life."

A former bass guitarist, Conte, 55, is a self-taught
nutritionist whose gregarious personality and salesmanship
gained him entry to top names in sport, many of whom later came to regret the negative publicity the association brought.

"I never did snitch or roll or inform on anyone," Conte
said. "And from the very beginning I was a guy of full
disclosure. I told all of the athletes I work with to the best
of my ability what the risks and returns were of their
association with me and the way we approached performance
enhancement."

The shadow of the steroid scandal lingers most ominously
around Bonds, baseball's single-season home run record holder
who is closing on the lifetime record held by Hank Aaron.

Bonds, 41, has said he never knowingly took steroids, but
could have unknowingly used BALCO substances out of trust in his boyhood friend and trainer Greg Anderson, who was also set to report to prison on Thursday.

"There has been a lot of negative stuff written about Barry
in the newspapers and on television," Conte said. "The few
times I've interacted with him, he's been a very fine
gentleman. I respect Barry a lot. I think that Barry is not
only a great athlete but I think that Barry is a great
person."

"I never talked to him about steroids; I've never given him
steroids."

Although Conte often joked around with colleagues during
court appearances, he appeared particularly somber on Thursday. His voice cracked and he said he had suffered from the flu in recent days.

Conte said he planned to do some writing in prison as part
of his efforts to fight sports doping.

"Once I get out [I'd like] to create a greater awareness
and acknowledgment of the problem and ultimately I hope to
create some change so that others can learn from my mistakes,"
Conte said.

He suggested that sports authorities step up off-season
drug testing. He did not think prosecuting athletes was a good
idea, but said he was still considering how sports should
respond internally to steroid violations.

"In most cases the athletes involved in the BALCO scandal
are good people who came from good families," Conte said. "I
would just not like to see any further harm come to anyone."

In the past, Conte's legal arguments suggested federal
authorities had unfairly tarred his reputation with overzealous
prosecution, but he would not go that far on Thursday.

"They have spent millions and millions of dollars on this
case investigating and prosecuting myself," he said. "I guess
whether it was worth it or not is a question federal taxpayers
will have to answer."

BALCO vice president James Valente was sentenced to three years of probation, and track coach Remi Korchemny is expected to receive probation at his February sentencing.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.