Despite the "magnitude," the appeals board said that the negative test, six days after the alleged positive test, created "reasonable doubt" about the alleged violation. It reported, "Frankly, the two negative tests sandwiching the positive result prompts many practical questions about the validity of the positive test."
The hearing and appeal were conducted in secret. The penchant for secrecy is what has frustrated international officials -- and strained relationships between sports officials in the U.S. and their counterparts elsewhere.
At the Salt Lake Winter Games in February of last year, IOC President Jacques Rogge said he found USATF's position incomprehensible.
"We want to know if he was exonerated, why, and if he was exonerated, why he was allowed to compete," Rogge said. "I do not understand the position of USATF. They say he was clean but they never gave a reason."
In April 2002, USATF and the IAAF agreed to submit the dispute to binding arbitration before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a Swiss-based tribunal. Both sides also agreed that the tribunal's decision would bring finality to the case.
During a hearing, the name of the athlete was inadvertently blurted out in open court. Even then, in keeping with the secrecy that has attended the case all along, it was not discussed in a wide fashion.
This January, a three-member panel issued a ruling in USATF's favor. It said that the IAAF could not now get what it wanted from USATF -- because, it said, the IAAF had not been diligent enough through the years in pressing USATF for disclosure. The issue is unlikely to emerge again in this context, because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency now runs drug testing for Olympic sports in this country -- USATF no longer takes the lead role in cases involving track and field athletes.
But the issue of whether the world believes that the U.S. plays fair is still very much on the agenda.
The IOC even now is pressing the U.S. Olympic Committee for wide-ranging information about the USOC's anti-doping practices in the past 25 years.
The USOC is due to report to the IOC at the next meeting of the IOC's ruling executive board, in September at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Insiders expect the USOC to detail dozens of cases that may have involved banned substances but were not punishable offenses under the rules then in place; any transgressions that went unpunished are expected to be minor.
"We remain committed to an aggressive anti-doping program built on principles of transparency, fairness and adherence to the rules," USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said.
"Yes," Rogge said Tuesday, "transparency is the best way."