Drug scandals producing lasting harmful side effects

Competition begins under climate of distrust created by tainted stars

Track And Field

Athens Olympics 2004

August 20, 2004|By Philip Hersh | Philip Hersh,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ATHENS - In track and field, the Olympic motto has been revised from "faster, higher, stronger" to "inhale, inject, swallow." Track athletes' consumption of performance-enhancing drugs has led the sport to be consumed by a doping scandal it cannot shake.

The U.S. Olympic track trials might as well have been sponsored by BALCO, because the runners most closely watched were those with ties to the controversial California lab whose owner, Victor Conte, has been indicted on charges of supplying banned drugs to athletes.

Then, in the middle of the trials, the Chicago Tribune reported on three successive days that three athletes from preeminent U.S. track club HSInternational had recently tested positive for banned substances.

One of those cases involved a would-be Olympian, Torri Edwards, who made the U.S. team in the 100 and 200 meters. Tuesday, Edwards was handed a two-year ban that knocked her out of the Athens Games.

As if that weren't enough, Greece stars Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou withdrew from the Olympics on Wednesday in the midst of an investigation of their having missed three out-of-competition drug tests.

It is in that climate of suspicion that the 2004 track and field competition begins today at Olympic Stadium, with an opening weekend highlighted by the men's and women's 100 races. The women's final is tomorrow, the men's Sunday.

One of the sport's biggest stars, Marion Jones, has been implicated in the BALCO scandal and is under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, even though she never has failed a drug test.

Jones, defending Olympic champion in the 100, will not defend her title because she finished only fifth at the U.S. trials. Winner of three gold and two bronze medals in 2000, she qualified this time for one individual event, the long jump.

Jones' companion, 100 world-record holder Tim Montgomery, is missing from the men's race, having failed to make the U.S. team. USADA is seeking a lifetime ban on Montgomery based on evidence from the federal investigation of BALCO.

"The good things about us are being undermined by all the scandals," said U.S. sprinter Lauryn Williams, the world's third-fastest woman in the 100 this season.

Williams, 20, is among a dozen medal contenders in a wide-open 100.

"I'm going to win, so it doesn't matter," she said. Her brashness, uncommon among female sprinters, is typical of the men.

"The person to beat in this race, since I'm a cocky person, is myself," said Shawn Crawford of the United States, the 2004 world leader in the 100 and 200.

"I don't mind going in as the favorite," said Jamaica's Asafa Powell, who beat defending Olympic champion Maurice Greene in two recent races on the European circuit.

Greene, 30, is trying to become the first man to cross the 100 finish line first in two Olympics. Carl Lewis of the United States won two 100 golds; the second came after Ben Johnson's disqualification.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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