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The Nation

U.S. Track Gold Medalist at Center of Controversy

Jerome Young, who won 400 meters on Tuesday in Paris, competed in Olympics after appeal.

August 27, 2003|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

U.S. sprinter Jerome Young upset the competition Tuesday to win a 400-meter gold medal at the World Championships in Paris. But now, he's likely to find himself at the center of an international dispute over another gold medal.

Young took home a gold medal in the 1,600-meter relay at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, one year after testing positive for a banned steroid, according to Olympic and track and field officials familiar with his case and documents obtained by The Times.

Although it had been known for more than two years that a U.S. athlete tested positive for a banned drug, until now the identity of that athlete has been a secret closely guarded by American track and field officials. That has led to a long-running furor in which the U.S. has been accused by international track and field officials of covering up for athletes who test positive for drugs, an allegation the U.S. denies.

Young's positive steroid test was appealed and overturned after he denied wrongdoing, clearing the way for him to compete at the Games in the early rounds of the 1,600-meter relay. Although he did not compete in the final, he was one of six Americans awarded gold medals for that team's victory, anchored in the final by Michael Johnson.

Throughout the controversy, USA Track & Field officials have contended they were not required to report the athlete to the international governing body for track because he ultimately was cleared to compete. Many Olympic and international track authorities disagreed, saying they should have been flagged to the results earlier in the process, as is the case now.

The Times is not aware of any positive test or allegations of positive tests concerning Young since 1999.

Today, in part because of such disputes, drug testing of athletes in Olympic sports is no longer the province of sports federations such as the USATF. Instead, it is overseen by such agencies as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency or the World Anti-Doping Agency, or at the Games by the International Olympic Committee.

The identification of Young by sources who had intimate knowledge of his case as it made its way before USATF officials is certain to reignite a long-standing dispute about how the U.S. handled past drug cases. It is also certain to raise questions about whether the U.S. legitimately earned its 1,600-meter relay medals, said Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, who, like many others, had unsuccessfully urged the U.S. to release details about the case.

"It does far more than cast doubt on the legitimacy" of the medals, Pound said. "It totally destroys it."

It is uncertain whether the U.S. medals would be in jeopardy: The USATF unequivocally cleared Young to compete in Sydney. The case was supposed to be closed after an arbitrator's decision this year between USATF and track's world governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations. However, some believe there may be momentum for the IAAF to take a fresh look at the case.

On Tuesday, Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, said that knowing about Young now would help all the athletes who are innocent -- but nonetheless tainted by reports of a positive drug test.

"As far as we were concerned," Rogge said, "there was suspicion for all the other American athletes. We knew clearly that there was one American positive."

After his surprising victory Tuesday, Young was not available for comment on the 1999 drug test. One of Young's lawyers, Anita Raman of New York, declined to comment, and another, Julie North, could not be reached.

Craig Masback, USATF chief executive, referred questions to spokeswoman Jill Geer, who said, "We don't comment on the identity of any athlete in an anti-doping case."

Young, 27, has won previous gold medals in World Championships, in the 1,600 relay in 1997 and 2001, the same event as his Olympic gold. Tuesday's was his first individual gold in the World event.

At issue for Young were three meets in 1999, at Raleigh, N.C., June 12; at Eugene, Ore., June 26, and at Lausanne, Switzerland, July 2.

According to documents, he tested negative for banned substances on June 12 and on July 2. But he tested positive June 26 for a drug called nandrolone, a steroid banned by the IOC as a performance-enhancer.

After the positive test, per USATF regulations, a three-member "doping hearing board" was convened in March 2000. It found there had been a violation, and, according to documents obtained by The Times, USATF suspended an athlete -- whose name was blacked out on the document -- in April 2000.

Sources involved in the drug test case and subsequent appeal have confirmed for The Times that it was Young.

After the suspension, Young asked for a hearing and a three-member "doping appeals board" was convened. On July 10, 2000, the board overturned the finding of a violation.

USATF made the ruling official the next day, five days before Young ran and finished fourth at the U.S. trials for the Sydney Games. That wasn't good enough to get him a spot in the 400 field, but good enough for a spot on the 1,600 team.

Last weekend, in an interview by The Times, a figure who knew about the case was asked about Young's demeanor during one of the hearings. The response, provided on condition of anonymity: "He didn't say very much at all.... He said he didn't do it. It had to be a mistake."

Rumors of a U.S. athlete who tested positive swirled around the track competition at Sydney, souring relationships between the U.S. and its international track counterparts.

The divide eventually led to the creation of a review commission. In July 2001, it found no systematic USATF cover-up, but added that USATF's "strong adherence to its confidentiality policy lent credence to the view of some that the USATF had something to hide."

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