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Life Bans Sought for 4 Sprinters

U.S. anti-doping agency formally charges Tim Montgomery and other track stars. His lawyer accuses authorities of 'McCarthy-like tactics.'

June 24, 2004|Alan Abrahamson and David Wharton | Times Staff Writers

Less than two months before the Summer Olympics, U.S. anti-doping authorities are seeking lifetime bans for four top American sprinters accused of using steroids and other banned substances, the athletes' attorneys and other sources said Wednesday.

Tim Montgomery, the world-record holder in the 100-meter dash, was among the athletes who received a formal charge letter from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Also notified were Michelle Collins, Chryste Gaines and Alvin Harrison, all of them Olympic medalists or world champions.

USADA alleged in June 7 letters that the four sprinters had used a cocktail of steroids and other banned substances, even though none had failed a sanctioned drug test for steroids. USADA has built its cases on evidence such as e-mails and alleged doping calendars.

"USADA's leap to judgment on the flimsiest of so-called 'evidence' confirms our worst suspicions -- that it is resorting to McCarthy-like tactics in its efforts to ruin Tim's reputation," one of Montgomery's lawyers, Howard Jacobs of Westlake Village, said in a statement.

Through their lawyers, Harrison and Collins also have denied wrongdoing; Gaines' attorney could not be reached. Officials with USADA and the U.S. Olympic Committee declined to comment.

The lawyers said they would fight the charges through binding arbitration. No athlete in USADA's nearly four-year history has ever been fully exonerated in such proceedings, although some have received reduced penalties.

The Athens Games start in 50 days, and the U.S. Olympic track and field trials will begin July 9 in Sacramento.

Anti-doping officials are seeking expedited hearings, but it is unclear whether the cases can be resolved by then. Even if the cases extend into August, international track officials or the International Olympic Committee could ban the athletes from the Games.

The crackdown is part of a movement to force nations to police their own sports programs, a shift away from the historic pattern of athletes being caught by international testers at major competitions.

"We are in a new world order," said Steven Ungerleider, an Oregon researcher and author of a book that detailed doping among East German athletes a generation ago. "The onus and the responsibility have been put on the national Olympic committees."

It is rare for a nation to ban its own athletes from the Olympics, especially so close to opening ceremonies, Ungerleider said. In 2000, just days before the Sydney Games, China abruptly withdrew 27 athletes and 13 coaches, saying an anti-doping program had turned up "suspicious" results in "several" athletes.

The cases against Montgomery and the others also reflect newfound cooperation among police, prosecutors, elected officials and sports authorities in the U.S. In this respect, it is following the lead of other countries such as France, which cracked down on doping during the 1998 Tour de France.

The U.S. charges stem from evidence uncovered in the federal investigation of a Burlingame, Calif.-based nutritional supplements company called BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Amid concerns that doping violators could qualify to compete in Athens, the Senate Commerce Committee subpoenaed some of this material and funneled it to USADA.

"This is the new frontier, so to speak, and perhaps our last opportunity to make any inroads on cheating like this -- meaning aggressive, high-level, sophisticated police action," said Charles Yesalis, a Penn State professor and expert on the anti-doping campaign in Olympic sport.

Typically a steroid offense carries a two-year suspension. The fact that USADA is seeking lifetime bans against the athletes is an unprecedented step in U.S. Olympic history, experts say, reflecting the agency's faith in the circumstantial evidence from the BALCO case.

It remains unclear whether USADA will take action against any other athletes. Marion Jones, perhaps the most famous track star in the world and winner of five medals at the Sydney Olympics, is under investigation. She has repeatedly denied taking performance-enhancing substances.

She and Montgomery live together in North Carolina and have a nearly 1-year-old son.

USADA, a quasi-independent agency funded by the USOC and the U.S. government and based in Colorado Springs, Colo., began overseeing drug tests for U.S. Olympic athletes after the Sydney Games.

Two U.S. athletes have since received lifetime bans -- hurdler Tony Dees, who tested positive for steroids twice, and cyclist Tammy Thomas, who tested positive for the steroid norbolethone.

On Sept. 3, local and federal law enforcement agents raided BALCO headquarters. USADA alleges that BALCO founder Victor Conte, in speaking that day with federal agents, admitted giving banned steroids to Montgomery, Gaines, Harrison and Collins. One of Conte's lawyers has said those comments were misconstrued or coerced.

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