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Sprinter Gatlin Fails Doping Test

Co-holder of 100-meter world record says he tested positive for the same substance that has put Landis' Tour de France win in question.

July 30, 2006|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist who earlier this year tied the world record in the 100-meter dash, failed a doping test, testing positive April 22 for testosterone at the Kansas Relays, the sprinter acknowledged Saturday.

Gatlin's disclosure came two days after the sports world was rocked by the announcement of an initial irregular test result involving Tour de France champion Floyd Landis, who has denied misconduct. In Gatlin's case, backup tests have already confirmed initial irregularities; he insisted Saturday he had "never knowingly used any banned substance."

The one-two hammer involving two of sports' most prestigious figures -- the Tour de France champion and the world's fastest man -- raises questions about whether the so-called "war on drugs" in sports has faltered and, for that matter, can ever be won.

Doping-related challenges remain persistent and far more extensive than many casual fans might want to believe in any number of professional and Olympic sports, including Major League Baseball, cycling and track and field.

"Anybody with an IQ over room temperature should have been able to figure this out, that doping is pervasive across all sports," former Penn State professor Charles Yesalis, one of the nation's leading anti-doping experts, said Saturday in a telephone interview.

Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency in Montreal, said that "clearly, sports officials on their own are unable to deal with the problem."

The only recourse, Pound said, is an aggressive partnership along the lines of the 50-50 structure WADA has developed "involving sport and the public authorities," meaning government and law enforcement.

Pound added, "It's the only way we're going to get out of this."

Peter Ueberroth, chairman of the USOC and a former baseball commissioner, said in a statement, "We have reached a tipping point in the fight against doping in sport." He added, "The cold reality is this: We are not yet winning the battle, and if we are ultimately to succeed, we must become smarter, more efficient and more effective in our efforts.

"The status quo will not work."

Asked how Gatlin could have tested positive, his New York attorney, Cameron Myler, said, "That's the question we're all trying to figure out at this point."

Asked, too, about the timing of his disclosure, she said, "Of course it's not ideal timing, with the news about Floyd."

The announcement Saturday seemed particularly stunning in light of Gatlin's leading role as part of a new vanguard of U.S. track and field athletes who, arriving on the scene in force at the 2004 Games, had brought the promise of international success without the taint of drugs.

Gatlin regularly spoke to youth groups about the dangers of doping. When asked at meets, he insisted athletes could win without cheating.

Just last month, at the U.S. national championships in Indianapolis, he said, referring to the current crop of U.S. standouts, "When we came on the scene in 2003, when we were babies, that was a dark age," the onset of the BALCO scandal that has since led to sanctions against more than a dozen track and field stars.

"The first questions we were asked was, 'So, what do you think of this latest drug scandal?' Now we talk about how we can make things better for the sport and how we can make it better for the people who come in behind us.

"We want to make a name for ourselves in a positive way."

At that same meet, he also said, "My e-mail is always full of messages from kids, and I'm always responding. Helping these kids get to the next level is a very big responsibility for me. I want to help show them the way, so they don't use performance-enhancing drugs, testosterone and all those other things."

USA Track & Field officials -- who for years have fought a perception overseas that top American stars are too often fueled by illicit substances -- issued a statement Saturday saying the organization was "gravely concerned" by Gatlin's positive test.

The failed Kansas test came just weeks before Gatlin tied the world record in the 100 meters, 9.77 seconds, a race run May 12 in Doha, Qatar. The record was first set on June 14, 2005, by Jamaican Asafa Powell, running in Athens.

Gatlin was not notified until June 15 that initial tests on the urine sample he provided April 22 had tested positive, Myler said Saturday, which explains why Gatlin was able to run in Qatar and through the U.S. nationals in Indianapolis.

Knowing when he raced in Indianapolis that he soon might be fighting a formal doping offense, Gatlin nonetheless won the 100 in 9.93 seconds.

Track and field fans worldwide had, with an added intensity since the Doha race in May, been clamoring for Gatlin to race against Powell. But Gatlin, since the U.S. nationals, decided that "until this got resolved it would be best for him not to run," Myler said.

Follow-up tests also came back positive for testosterone, she said. Notification came about July 12, she said.

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