I was active in sports medicine academically and socially at the time. If you asked me in the early 2000s what Balco was, and what they did, I would have said that they are a cutting edge supplement company and their major sell is that that they had a legal steroid-alternative for athletes that was not technically a steroid by law.
I knew powerlifters and throwers who told me that their supplements 1) gave you a legal precursor that allowed your body to make more testosterone naturally and 2) also included engineered, “designer” legal, and unclassified steroid-like anabolic compounds. I don’t think they made Androstene but andro would be an example.
Andro was sold at GNC as a steroid alternative with testosterone raising abilities. No one in sports performance considered Andro to be cheating, or “steroids” or illegal. Balco also claimed that it would not give a false positive test, and it would do this because your body was doing the final step to turn it into testosterone so your hormone ratios were supposed to look normal.
They “claimed” to test athletes to make sure that when testing came around they would not “fail” but that doesn’t mean that the athletes did not have odd tests. They would show high testosterone but with normal total hormone ratios.
Athletes started failing tests though-Marion Jones and CJ Hunter for example, but Hunter basically admitted he had been using illegal substances so my take (and I want to be clear that there is an unsolved mystery as to exactly what Balco was doing.
I will investigate with some of my “sources”) is that Balco was actually putting true steroids, according to the law, or at least something that they once thought would not technically be illegal but which was reinterpreted by courts or congress, and combining them in ways and with other substances that were supposed to confound the tests of the day.
I don’t think that all athletes knew what they were taking, but if that is true then I would have expected a big lawsuit.
Last I read was that the cream was testosterone cream and the clear was something called THG which was technically legal and not classified as a steroid at the time (plus possibly testosterone).