U.S. sprinter Jerome Young should be stripped of the gold medal he won in the 1,600-meter relay at the 2000 Sydney Olympics because he tested positive for a banned steroid in 1999, the world's top sports court ruled yesterday.
The ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland capped a dispute that for years had produced tension between U.S. track and Olympic officials, and soured U.S. relations with international sports authorities. Anti-doping authorities hailed it as a landmark event.
"If you cheat," said Dick Pound, president of the World Anti-Doping Authority in Montreal, "those who are responsible for protecting innocent athletes are going to pursue you until justice is done. That is what has happened here."
The arbitration panel said that Young, 27, of Fort Worth, should have been banned for two years after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone in June 1999. That would have left him ineligible for the Sydney Games.
In a statement issued by his attorney, Young said he had "never taken a prohibited substance" and called the ruling "fundamentally unfair."
Meanwhile, the ruling immediately produced a problem for track's worldwide governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, as well as for the International Olympic Committee. Should Young alone lose his medal? Or should all six U.S. runners on the 1,600-meter relay team, including legendary sprinter Michael Johnson, who ran the anchor leg in the finals at the Sydney Games, be stripped?
Only two Americans have received medals, then been forced to return them: Jim Thorpe, who won gold in the decathlon at Stockholm in 1912; and swimmer Rick DeMont, who won gold at Munich in 1972.
The IAAF must recommend an option to the IOC. The issue is complicated by goodwill toward Johnson in particular - he was featured in a recent edition of Olympic Review, the IOC's magazine - by the ongoing BALCO doping investigation, and by claims by the teams from Nigeria, Jamaica and the Bahamas, the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in the race.
Jim Scherr, chief executive of the USOC, said in a statement that the USOC hoped the IAAF and IOC would consider the "fairness and equities of the situation before determining what effect, if any, [yesterday's ruling] has on the gold medal won in Sydney by the relay team."
The three-member arbitration panel said it had been urged - it was not clear by whom - to order the surrender of all six medals. It said it did not "necessarily accept that, in the unusual circumstances of the present case, this consequence must follow."
Recent precedent suggests that the IAAF will recommend the IOC take all six medals.
Alvin Harrison, who ran the first leg of the 1,600 relay for the U.S. team in Sydney, is one of four U.S. sprinters facing a lifetime ban from competition in the wake of doping allegations leveled by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The others are Tim Montgomery, Chryste Gaines and Michelle Collins.
Alvin Harrison's twin brother, Calvin, who also ran on the 1600 relay team at Sydney, faces a two-year ban after testing positive last summer for modafinil.
It had been known for years in track and Olympic circles that a U.S. athlete had tested positive for something before the Sydney Games but had been cleared to compete.
The USOC confirmed in September that Young was the athlete at issue and then pushed USATF to disclose its files. Under threat of sanction from the USOC, USATF did so in February, leading to yesterday's arbitration ruling.
The current world 400-meter champion, Young remains eligible to compete now.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.