Coming soon: new meaning to the term Olympic trials

Drugs

April 27, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

PEOPLE ARE nervous. People should be nervous. It's 10 weeks and counting for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.

The U.S. Olympic Committee wants issues resolved sooner rather than later, since it doesn't want to later have to strip athletes of medals they should never have been allowed to compete for in the first place.

U.S. Track and Field officials wonder which athletes might actually make it to the starting line at its Olympic trials in Sacramento, Calif., July 9-18.

Marion Jones wonders why she has joined the ranks of Barry Bonds when all those years she was heralded as the woman who would join Pele, Muhammed Ali and Michael Jordan as a transcendent world figure.

The name of this movie is: BALCO Goes to Athens.

Or, just as possible, BALCO clients may not wind up going to Sacramento, let alone Athens.

There are no guarantees that the United States Anti-Doping Agency isn't preparing to send the Olympic buildup into contentious, litigious and unprecedented territory.

Whatever trouble new scrutiny about steroids has brought to baseball, it's nothing compared with what it could mean for the U.S. Olympic team.

Not when doping violations can lead to lifetime bans. And not when the standards for evidence of doping violations are broader than ever.

It doesn't take dirty urine samples to sink an Olympian - or an Olympics.

These days, Olympic drug police have a bigger net with which to catch a thief - or a fraud or a cheat or whatever else you want to call athletes who violate Olympic doping policy.

USADA can also charge an athlete with violations based on something called "non-analytical positives."

It's right there in Article 2.8 of the World Anti-Doping Agency code. It characterizes behaviors that are tantamount to doping, such as trafficking, assisting, encouraging, covering up, aiding, abetting and other forms of complicity.

These are as good as tainted urine samples for serving as irrefutable evidence of doping violations.

"It's huge," said Dr. Gary Wadler, a U.S. member of WADA.

"It certainly opens all kinds of legal issues. ... How do you balance the interest of the individual vs. the interest of the sport?"

Using anything other than urine samples as evidence of doping violations has never been done before, but then, these are different times.

For that we can thank Victor Conte, BALCO, the IRS, the State of the Union Address in which the president made steroids a focal point, John Ashcroft, Bonds and now, Jones.

The USOC is waiting, nervously, to see what come of the current USADA investigation into designer steroids - and any other leads it might be following.

"We just don't know. USADA's credibility is based in part on its independence from the USOC and national governing bodies. USADA is decidedly independent day-to-day operations. We don't know at this point what they're working on," said Darryl Seibel, USOC chief communications officer.

"If we have a concern, it would be this: If there's information out there that would be important for USADA to have, we would encourage anyone with that information to make it available as quickly as possible."

In other words: The clock is ticking. Fast.

The USOC would rather have any or all information about possible doping violations reported now because it will take time for USADA to finalize its investigation, proceed with adjudication of any case or cases, release its findings and issue any punishment.

That doesn't include time it would take to appeal and have a final decision rendered.

If we thought Maurice Clarett's challenge to the Court of Appeals ruling was an interesting use of the U.S. Supreme Court's time, wait and see what happens if USADA actually does ban a track athlete for "non-analytical positives."

There is certainly anecdotal evidence stemming from the BALCO case that at least suggests the USADA could attempt to use this clause to allege guilt by an Olympic hopeful.

For instance, IRS reports from the BALCO investigation allegedly say Conte named the 27 athletes to whom he distributed his designer steroids. That was reported in the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times.

Conte's lawyers deny the musician-turned-chemist named names - or least Conte's lawyer characterizes the IRS report as coerced information.

Why Marion Jones was ever married to shot putter C.J. Hunter was always a question, particularly after he was banned from track after positive drug tests during the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. Now Jones has to explain the $7,000 check of hers deposited in Conte's account. Reports are the check was signed by Hunter and that Jones knew nothing of it.

However, anti-doping rules are tougher than ever. The USADA, whose spokesman declined to comment in an interview today, is in no uncertain terms sniffing out every lead that could uncover evidence of doping violations. That includes irrefutable evidence that's not urine samples.

No wonder everyone is nervously waiting. If there were ever a time that an anti-doping agency were going to throw the book at a violator, it's now - Athens or no Athens.

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