New Orleans -- He is a pariah, guarded by police, training alone, pronouncing his innocence.
Butch Reynolds, an athlete condemned for alleged steroid use, will not go quietly.
Today, after racing 22 months from court to court, he is expected to line up in a starting block, competing in the twice-delayed 400-meter men's preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Reynolds' chances of advancing through four rounds and participating in the Summer Games of Barcelona, Spain, remain improbable. If his competitors don't beat him, then an international sports federation will attempt to bring him down. But to underestimate Reynolds now would be to repeat a mistake made by his adversaries in boardrooms, courtrooms and locker rooms.
To understand Reynolds, you could look through legal briefs or dissect a historic Supreme Court order that enabled him to enter the trials.
But to understand the man, you must watch him run. The 400 is track's most demanding race. You must be willing to run beyond physical exhaustion, to feel cramps in the belly and the legs, to sprint until you are literally sick with pain. With an 8 1/2 -foot stride, with his arms churning like pistons, Reynolds, 6 feet 3 and 180 pounds, turns high-speed torture into a ballet.
At 28, after racing only four times in nearly two years, Reynolds still may be among the world's best 400-meter men. He is the world-record holder, establishing the mark of 43.29 seconds at a meet in Zurich, Switzerland. He was the 1988 Olympic silver medalist in the 400, and a member of the U.S. gold-medal winning 4 x 400 team at the Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.
But his prime years might be over, and he is near financial ruin.
Reynolds was banned two years by the International Amateur Athletic Federation after allegedly testing positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone at a Grand Prix meet in Monte Carlo on Aug. 12, 1990. He steadfastly has maintained his innocence, claiming to be the victim of a faulty testing procedure.
Moreover, he has declared: "I do not use steroids."
Those who know him say he has been profoundly changed by the struggle for reinstatement. He has lost millions in potential endorsements. His legal bills have climbed to $500,000.
"He's broke," said Reynolds' agent, Brad Hunt.
Once disarmingly outgoing, Reynolds is now serious, nearly morose. The man who once went into intimate details to describe his stomach ailments at the 1987 world championships now constantly refers to himself in the third person and speaks with a passion, often near tears. He said other 400-meter runners "would have committed suicide or gone through drug treatment" had they gone through a similar ordeal.
"The battle has changed Butch," said LeRoy Walker, treasurer of the U.S. Olympic Committee. "I think he has become a different kind of person. And it's different how he is perceived by his fellow athletes, too."
Raised in Akron, Ohio, Reynolds had his first contact with fame May 3, 1987. On a wind-swept day, the then-Ohio State junior was transformed from the 17th-fastest quarter-miler in the world to No. 3 all-time, clocking 44.10 at the Jesse Owens meet. Suddenly, he was labeled as the most likely to eclipse running's oldest record, Lee Evans' 43.86 in the 400, recorded just minutes after Bob Beamon's epic long jump of 29-2 1/2 at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
On the walls of his apartment, he tacked up a sign with his given name, "Harry Reynolds, World Record, 43.81."
Reynolds beat even that boast in his 1988 race in Zurich, leading the world's great runners by 10 meters, roaring through the tape in 43.29. Three years later, after watching a grainy tape of the race, he told the Chicago Tribune: "That took a lot of guts. I thought it was the worst I would ever feel in my life."
But, for Reynolds, the worst was yet to come.
Reynolds was snared after finishing third and being selected at random to test at an August 1990 meet in Monte Carlo. He learned of the positive result the next month, the day before running in a meet in New Delhi, India, when his agent, Hunt, walked in his hotel room and said, "We have a problem."
The problem was steroids, used to aid training.
Since then, Reynolds and his lawyers have worked on an elaborate defense, based on picking apart the testing procedure. Now, only Reynolds knows if he took drugs.
"There has never been an issue of Butch Reynolds' guilt or innocence," he said. "I've proven my innocence."
Although his opponents rarely discuss whether they believe Reynolds, Danny Everett, the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, said: "I never suspected Butch of using drugs. But I don't feel there was a conspiracy against him either."
There were irregularities in Reynolds' test. His urine samples spent two nights in two different refrigerators en route from Monte Carlo to the testing lab of Jean-Pierre LaFarge in Paris. His lawyers also maintain that the two samples tested did not come from the same person. And, they say, he was a victim of mistaken identity.