Cancer survivor fights for his shot to compete

Bowie sailor asks IOC `to do right by me' over testosterone injections



May 02, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Kevin Hall has done everything in his power to be an Olympian.

The 34-year-old sailor from Bowie dominated the Finn class competition at the team trials in Florida in February. He and his wife have "burnt through our savings and run up as much debt as we could afford" to get him trained and equipped. He's in Europe now competing against the men he expects to face at the Summer Games.

But several times a month, Hall, a survivor of testicular cancer, does something the International Olympic Committee has, so far, deemed unacceptable: He injects himself with testosterone.

Now, he says, he needs the IOC "to do right by me" and declare him eligible to compete in Athens.

Hall has gotten the approval of the International Sailing Federation to compete in its events. The U.S. Olympic Committee also approved him for competition. But the IOC, which considers testosterone a performance-enhancing substance, has not yet made an exception for his medical situation.

It is a distraction a world-class athlete doesn't need in the months leading up to the six days of competition that begin Aug. 14.

"I just have to deal with it," says Hall, a solidly built 6-footer with red hair who grew up in California. "Now, it's a matter of the right person lifting the right rubber stamp at the right time."

Hall says regular blood tests indicate he's within the normal parameters for the hormone that keeps bones and muscles strong and his mental health on an even keel.

"I have the same testosterone levels as the other competitors," he says. "Instead of it coming naturally, it's a needle. It isn't something I want to do. It's something I have to do."

As a student at Brown University in Providence, R.I., Hall was a three-time All-American. In his senior year in 1990, he was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery to remove a testicle.

In a remarkable show of strength, he was back sailing competitively for the intercollegiate national title less than a month after surgery. He finished second in the Laser class, a 14-foot dinghy sailed solo. Hall graduated in 1991 with honors with degrees in mathematics and French literature.

In 1991, he won his first North American championship. In December 1992, he had a checkup while preparing for the world championship and learned the cancer was back.

During the next two months, he had first his lymph nodes removed and then the other testicle. Testosterone therapy was prescribed to replace the substance his body no longer produced.

Nursing his health, Hall didn't race from January 1993 until March 1995.

In 1996, while he was trying to make the Olympics as a sailor in the Laser class, he went public with his story in an attempt to get a waiver from the USOC. The distraction affected his performance, he says, and he finished fifth in the team trials.

"I think there were people who wanted me to lose so that the problem would go away," he says.

In 2000, Hall and Morgan Larson competed in the two-man 49er trials and finished second, again pushing off the need for IOC officials to rule on his case.

This year, they have no choice.

"It's not as if I'm surprising them with this condition," Hall says. "The difference is I'm on the Olympic team now and I'm fairly optimistic that will make the difference."

Hall hasn't spent much time at home. The few days he gets between regattas are spent raising money and working out at a local gym with his wife, Amanda, a medical resident in the shock trauma unit at University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore.

That Hall is doing so well in the Finn class is somewhat surprising. He only began training last October after deciding to forgo another campaign in the two-man Star class.

He credits his progress to two things: focused practice on the water and building his experience sailing downwind, the "power" part of a race when a competitor can cut the distance to the leaders or pull away from the pack.

Hall practiced his downwind technique sailing the 30 miles between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, choosing his route based on the direction of the wind. He estimates he made the trip nearly a dozen times.

"It was the kind of focused, quality experience you just can't get during racing," he says. "If I keep learning at the rate I've been learning, I have a shot at a medal."

Slalom team set

The U.S. canoe and kayak slalom team went to the first World Cup event of the season in Athens last weekend assured of only two places for the Olympics, but came away with six spots.

Maryland residents Scott Parsons and Brett Heyl will represent the United States for the first time in the men's kayak event (K-1). In the 10-man field, Parsons finished fifth and Heyl finished eighth.

Joe Jacobi, a Bethesda native and the 1992 gold medalist, and 2000 Olympian Matt Taylor of Atlanta backed into qualifying for the two-man canoe (C-2) because of the showing of teammates Jeff Larimer and Frank Babcock.

Larimer and Babcock finished in 18th place, which gave the United States a second slot in the C-2. Jacobi and Taylor finished 27th.

Rounding out the U.S. squad are 2002 world champion kayaker Rebecca Giddens of San Diego, who will return to the Olympics for the second time by virtue of her sixth-place finish, and men's single canoeist Chris Ennis of North Carolina, who finished 14th to secure his first Olympic berth.

U.S. slalom coach Brian Parsons had said before the competition that team officials wanted to secure five slots: two spots each in men's and women's kayaking and one position for a two-man canoe.

The configuration came out a little differently, but in the end they had a net gain of one.

Games at a glance

When: Aug. 13-29

Where: Athens, Greece

Sports: 28

Countries: 202

Athletes: 10,500

Events: 296


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