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Track's Dark Cloud

June 27, 2004|David Davis

The ongoing probe of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), the Northern California-based supplement company that reportedly supplied top professional athletes with illegal steroids, has become the "dark cloud" hovering over track, according to sprinter Maurice Greene.

To date, four BALCO-related U.S. track and field athletes have received two-year bans for violating the rules of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, making them ineligible for the Athens Games. In addition to Kelli White, the reigning 100- and 200-meter world champion, they include shot-putter Kevin Toth and hammer-throwers John McEwen and Melissa Price.

The agency also has launched proceedings against four other athletes, all of them sprinters, including 100-meter world-record holder Tim Montgomery. They have been notified of "potential" doping violations, a first step toward banning the athletes from the Summer Games.

In addition to Montgomery, Chryste Gaines, Michelle Collins and Alvin Harrison received letters this month from the agency outlining evidence of doping violations. All four are world champions or Olympic medalists.

Marion Jones, who won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, has faced intense scrutiny after her name was linked to BALCO. She has denied taking steroids.

"We're doing everything that can be done through modern science," says Craig Masback, the CEO of USA Track & Field, the sport's governing body. "We want the cheaters out. We want any suspicion over any athlete to be taken away so we can go into Sacramento and Athens with the cleanest possible team."

Pat Connolly, Felix's coach, first experienced the controversy in the late 1970s and early '80s, when Evelyn Ashford, whom she trained, raced against East German women who later admitted taking drugs. Connolly, who testified about athletes and drug use before the U.S. Senate in 1989, is fiercely anti-steroid. "They are not an option," she says. "It doesn't challenge me to work with someone on [drugs]. I know how fast a woman can run."

"Coming from high school, I was really naive and didn't realize that all this stuff was going on," says Felix, who under the anti-doping agency rules can be drug-tested at any time. "I've never been offered anything or seen anything. It's been a surprise to me."

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