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Bobsledder Johnson Has 2 Suspensions

April 09, 2002|Alan Abrahamson

Gea Johnson, who finished fifth in the Salt Lake Winter Games in the bobsled, has been slapped in recent years with two doping-related suspensions--the second little-known and testament to the complexities inherent in sports' anti-doping rules.

Johnson's first suspension has been well documented. The International Amateur Athletic Federation, track and field's world governing agency, suspended the 1990 NCAA heptathlon champion from Arizona after she tested positive in December 1994, for anabolic steroids.

Johnson denied wrongdoing, then won an injunction from a federal judge that allowed her to compete in the 1996 Olympic trials. She did not make the team. She switched to weightlifting and soon became world class. Before the 2000 Summer Games, she switched back to heptathlon training but suffered an injury. After recovering, she won a spot on the 2002 U.S. bobsledding team.

Days before the Salt Lake Games, USA Weightlifting posted on its Web site the announcement that Johnson had accepted--retroactively--a two-year suspension dating from an April 1997 test that found she had an elevated level of epitestosterone. Johnson denied wrongdoing but agreed to forfeit all results during those years.

Epitestosterone is a naturally occurring steroid. It can be used to mask use of testosterone, which can enhance strength. But the Web site announcement made a point of noting that Johnson's testosterone levels were "not elevated," suggesting there was no evidence of masking.

Asked to explain the elevated epitestosterone level, Johnson's attorney, Adam Driggs, said: "One of our problems was that this was an April 1997 test and [USA Weightlifting] didn't even deem it a positive until June 2000. How can Gea go back over 31/2 years to re-create what was the matter with her body at that time?"

Johnson said, "I got accused of doing nothing. I had to accept that deal, or they were going to try to keep me out of the Olympics."

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