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Just a Dash of Drugs in Lewis, DeLoach

Sprinters had such small amounts of ephedrine in 1988 tests that other reported positives questioned.

April 23, 2003|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

Track stars Carl Lewis and Joe DeLoach, who won gold medals at the Seoul Olympics, tested positive before those 1988 Summer Games for trace amounts of stimulants commonly found in cold medicines, but under the rules in place then and now deserve to be cleared of any suggestion they used performance-enhancing substances, according to documents obtained by The Times.

In three separate tests conducted at the Olympic trials in July 1988, Lewis registered levels of two parts per million, four parts per million and six parts per million for a combined mixture of three stimulants found in common cold remedies: ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine.

DeLoach, tested once, registered a combined level of seven parts per million.

Under International Olympic Committee rules in place then, any level between one and 10 parts per million was subject to further investigation. Under U.S. Olympic Committee rules, that meant evidence proving "sole intention" to dope. The USOC's executive director at the time, Baaron Pittenger, who conducted the investigation, said Tuesday he found no such intent, thus exonerating the two athletes.

Under the current rules, the levels the two athletes recorded are so minimal they would not even qualify to be reported as a doping offense under what the IOC calls its "strict liability" system -- meaning that if it's in your body, you're liable. Those rules rely on threshold levels, with different thresholds for different chemical substances; the levels at issue for Lewis and DeLoach are well below the thresholds.

"Based upon the rules and my experience in other cases ... it looks like a loser of a case to prosecute," said Rich Young, a Colorado Springs, Colo., attorney and one of the principal drafters of the World Anti-Doping Agency's newly ratified global anti-doping code, referring to Lewis and DeLoach.

The materials obtained Tuesday illustrate the complexity and nuance of the anti-doping rules over the years in the Olympic arena, and raise significant questions about the scope and nature of documents identified in recently published reports purporting to cite more than 100 positive drug tests for U.S. athletes from 1988 to 2000.

Included were test results, memos or letters indicating drug positives for athletes who won 19 medals from 1984 to 2000, and at least 18 athletes who tested positive in the Olympic trials and were allowed to compete in the Games.

Lewis, DeLoach and tennis star Mary Joe Fernandez were the most recognizable names in those documents, published in Sports Illustrated and the Orange County Register. Publication has sparked concern from around the world that the USOC had engaged in a cover-up, an allegation USOC officials have long and consistently denied.

"Everyone knows I am an athlete against drug use, and always have been," Lewis, a nine-time Olympic gold medalist, said Tuesday in a telephone interview with The Times.

The winner of the 100-meter race at Seoul, declared the victor after Canadian Ben Johnson was disqualified after the race for steroid use, Lewis added, "People against me -- they may feel like they have ammo or evidence. I don't think so."

DeLoach, who won the 200 meters, could not be reached for comment.

Fernandez, meantime, told the Reuters news service Tuesday that she had simply taken over-the-counter Sudafed, which contains pseudoephedrine. U.S. tennis officials issued a statement backing Fernandez, who won bronze in singles and gold in doubles in 1992 in Barcelona, gold in doubles in Atlanta. Experts said Tuesday it's possible that even two Sudafeds -- a common dose -- could produce elevated levels of pseudoephedrine.

Meantime, Darryl Seibel, the USOC's spokesman, said late Tuesday, "There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any official affiliated with the USOC ever took part in an effort to suppress the results of a test in order to allow an athlete to compete at the Games. The applicable rules at the time were in fact applied."

Former U.S. Olympic Committee director of drug control Wade Exum had planned to enter the thousands of pages of documents in court as part of a lawsuit filed in Denver against the USOC. The case was dismissed shortly before trial was to begin; the documents surfaced shortly thereafter.

"I am extremely disappointed in Wade Exum basically being vindictive in causing problems because he couldn't get what he wanted," Lewis said. "I am very disappointed in that."

Exum could not be reached for comment.

The documents obtained Tuesday by The Times refer specifically only to the Lewis and DeLoach cases -- but raise questions about the nature and scope of all 100 purportedly positive tests. Included in the materials is a letter reviewing the two cases signed by Don Catlin, the director of the UCLA lab that has long been a central U.S. Olympic testing facility.

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