Reynolds story far from Olympic ideal

MIKE LITTWIN

June 22, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

In the movie version, Butch Reynolds would be innocent and yet give up a shot at the Olympics because he wouldn't jeopardize his buddies. There wouldn't be a dry eye in the house.

Or, his fellow athletes could band together and demand that if Reynolds, the world-record holder, weren't allowed to run in the 400-meter Olympic trials, then they wouldn't, either.

Instead, of course, they voted not to run in the trials at all if Reynolds competed because it might cause them to be banned from the sport. That's because of what is called the contamination rule, which says that anyone who competes against a banned athlete is subject to suspension. So much for your profile in courage.

And then the Supreme Court intervened, and it was sort of like a call from the governor, saying Reynolds must be allowed to run in the trials. And then we heard that the IAAF, the international body that runs track, is about to decontaminate the race, meaning others can run alongside Reynolds without fear of penalty.

But, just when you think you've got a happy ending, you realize that Reynolds isn't going to be allowed to compete in the Olympics anyway -- the Supreme Court has no say in Barcelona -- and most of his colleagues are calling him selfish.

Who knows what to believe?

What you wish you knew, but what you can't know -- it's between Butch Reynolds and his God -- is whether Reynolds actually used anabolic steroids.

If he did, he has done everyone a grave injustice.

If he didn't, a terrible injustice is being done to him.

This much is clear: Reynolds tested positive after running in a meet in Monte Carlo on Aug. 12, 1990. The urine specimen was sent to Paris, where it arrived two days later and after stays in two different refrigerators. The doping control officer admits there was a mix-up when marking the specimen. The IAAF instituted a two-year ban anyway.

And Reynolds has spent $500,000 and most of his days since trying to clear his name.

Is he selfish, as some attest?

Is he an innocent victim, as he insists?

I don't know. I do know there's a wonderful scene from "Chariots of Fire" in which a son of the British aristocracy gives up his place in the 400 meters so that teammate Eric Liddell, a Scottish missionary who wouldn't run in the 100 because it was held on a Sunday, could compete and win a gold in the 1924 Olympics.

If you've never seen the movie, rent it immediately. What better time for a story that calls up all that is good in us?

That events didn't quite match the Hollywood version -- Liddell did skip the 100 and actually preached that Sunday, but he earned his own place in the 400 -- is almost beside the point. Or is it? Maybe there never was an Olympic ideal. Maybe it has always been a myth.

Reynolds would have us believe he is fighting for the good of all athletes against an unfeeling bureaucracy. He says that what happened to him could happen to anyone. He says he wants to fight so that it could never happen again.

His fellow athletes say he shouldn't bother. More than that, they say he should get out of New Orleans and leave them alone.

Either they don't believe Reynolds, or they're not really interested in the principle. Or both. There is an Olympics coming up, and these are not amateurs. There's a great deal of money at stake, so much that Reynolds has sued the IAAF for damages amounting to $12 million.

How much does one risk for a cause?

Steroid use is different from, say, cocaine use. Athletes who use cocaine or other illegal substances are banned from various sports as a moral issue. Using drugs is bad; therefore, we don't want drug users. The miracle of Steve Howe, suspended for a seventh time, is how well he has been able to perform despite his drug problem.

If an athlete is banned for steroids, however, it is because the drug enhances his performance. We saw what Ben Johnson did in the 1988 Olympics, and then we saw it become an un-event. Because Johnson used steroids, he had to give up his gold medal in the 100 meters, and the record.

Obviously, steroid use needs to be monitored.

Just as obviously, because humans are humans, mistakes are made in testing.

I don't know what happened with Reynolds. He has made a pretty convincing case, if only in his persistence, that he is a victim. It could just be an act. But what's clear, despite whatever help he gets from a Supreme Court justice, is that Reynolds stands alone.

That's what happens in real life.

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