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U.S. Stance on Drugs Compromised : Swimming: Foschi's wrist-slap punishment for positive test for steroids undercuts American position against Chinese.

November 04, 1995|ELLIOTT ALMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The American campaign against drug use among China's female swimmers could be compromised by the handling of the first positive result in the United States in eight years.

As U.S. officials prepare to lobby for stricter enforcement at a special swimming drug conference later this month in Rio de Janeiro, Friday's announcement that an American swimmer received a light sentence after testing positive for an anabolic steroid puts them in an awkward position.

Jessica Foschi, 15, of Old Brookville, N.Y., was put on two years' probation by a three-member panel for testing positive for mesterolone, a banned substance.

The penalty is nothing more than a warning that the up-and-coming distance swimmer will be tested regularly. Foschi, ranked 13th in the world in the 800-meter freestyle, can compete for a berth on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. Another positive test will result in a lifetime suspension.

According to regulations of FINA, swimming's international governing body, athletes are supposed to be banned for two years for taking anabolic steroids. The United States has criticized FINA for not taking a strong stand against Chinese women who burst on the scene in the 1990s with world-record times, but have had a recent spate of positive drug tests.

In an effort to comply with FINA guidelines and perhaps to bolster their cause in Rio, U.S. Swimming's leadership will petition its board of directors to ban Foschi for two years.

"You have to enforce the rules evenly," U.S. Swimming President Carol Zaleski said. "We can't say to the Chinese, 'It's OK to feed your swimmers drugs until they're 15, then stop.' "

U.S. officials in favor of a stricter penalty said the Foschi case will not hinder their efforts.

"I think we go into Rio with our heads held high," Zaleski said.

Said USC's Mark Schubert, a women's national team coach: "We never claimed to be innocent," he said. "When an athlete tests positive, we need to take action."

The surprising decision to put Foschi on probation was made by the National Board of Review. The group voted 2-1 for probation after finding that Foschi did not know how the drug got into her system.

" . . . The banned substance was either given to Jessica without her knowledge or . . . she was the victim of sabotage," the board wrote.

But Zaleski said U.S. officials cannot ignore the rules unless there is overwhelming evidence that the use was inadvertent.

According to the board's dissenting opinion, no factual testimony was presented to support the claim that there was malice or sabotage.

Foschi, a student at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, N.Y., was unavailable for comment, as was Dave Ferris, her coach at the Long Island Aquatic Club.

Foschi tested positive after finishing third in the 1,500-meter freestyle at the U.S. national championships in August at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena. She was 14 at the time, making her one of the youngest U.S. athletes to be caught.

After learning that her A sample was positive, Foschi's family removed her from the Pan Pacific team that competed in Atlanta.

That was the meet in which the United States, Australia and Canada voted to ban China because of the alarming number of positive tests of its women.

The last U.S. swimmer to test positive was Angel Myers at the 1988 U.S. Olympic trials. She was kicked off the Olympic team, then returned in 1991 after serving her suspension. Now married, Angel Martino won a relay gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

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