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Category: Doping

The buzz: Is Landis the fly who can finally sting Armstrong?

Land-Arms

A colleague from my journalistic past, former newspaperman Dan Barreiro, e-mailed out of the blue yesterday to ask if I would go on his radio show (KFAN in Minneapolis) to talk about the Floyd Landis doping revelations and accusations.

As I did the interview late Thursday afternoon (click here for the audio, in the middle of the segment), a little voice in the back of my head kept repeating Capt. Renault's words from the movie "Casablanca'':  "I'm shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here!'' just before a croupier hands Renault his winnings.

Anyone who has followed professional cycling -- or, in fact, any sport -- the past 15 years would be painfully naive to be shocked by Landis' admission of having been a previously unrepentant doper or by the idea that there could be truth in the doping accusations he has leveled at Lance Armstrong and the other members of a former cycling team, Motorola / U.S. Postal, that already had several riders connected to doping.

It's hardly novel for athletes to proclaim their innocence loudly for several years and then suddenly admit to having lied about doping.  Marion Jones did it.  So did Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte and Mark McGwire and many East German swimmers.

The difference between all of them and Landis is they were compelled into confessions by the feds or Congress or irrefutable evidence uncovered when the Berlin Wall fell or, in McGwire's case, the desire to get back into baseball as a coach. 

Landis did it to clear his conscience, according to Bonnie D. Ford's exclusive interview on espn.com with the defrocked 2006 Tour de France winner.

In the process, he chose to sling mud at other cyclists, including Armstrong, the one name guaranteed to get attention, the only one with name recognition beyond his sport.

The best efforts of amateur psychologists notwithstanding, it remains unclear why Landis chose to implicate Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie and a few others.

Was Landis trying to assuage his suddenly clear conscience and minimize the guilt he admitted by showing he was not alone?  Is he simply an embittered, broken (and reportedly broke) man looking to extract several tons of flesh from the sport that had rewarded and then rejected him?

To Armstrong, the charges leveled by Landis are merely a couple of new flies in the gigantic swarm that has buzzed around him since his first of seven straight Tour de France victories in 1999.  Over those years, Armstrong has either brushed away the pesky buggers, as he did in comments Thursday, or swatted them with threats of legal action.

But the buzzing won't stop, as if this is a special breed of fly attracted to suspected liars.

(Interestingly, Landis claimed in 2007 the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had offered him a shortened ban for his 2006 Tour de France bust if he would pass on information that could help make a doping case against Armstrong, which Landis apparently refused to do. A few months earlier, Armstrong had said of Landis, "I don't think he did it [doped}.  That's always my position and still is today.'')

So far, what Landis has said in recent e-mails to cycling officials about Armstrong and others falls into the "he-said, she-said'' category.   Whether Landis can provide documented evidence -- or get others to corroborate details of his allegations -- may determine whether this is the fly that will give Armstrong's reputation an incurable infection despite his repeated denials about use of performance-enhancing drugs.

There already is a body of evidence to suggest Armstrong was a doper, some purely intuitive, some by implication, some "he-said, she-said,'' some scientific, even if he never has had an officially positive doping control.  (A positive in 1999 for a banned corticosteroid was dismissed when Armstrong belatedly produced a therapeutic use exemption, reportedly backdated, for the substance.  And not having failed a drug test hardly is proof of righteousness in an era when athletes find undetectable substances and masking agents and other ways to beat testing.)

The intuitive: In an era when cycling was rife with doping, as revealed by test results, police raids, trials and subsequent confessions, Armstrong crushed admitted dopers over and over again in the Tour de France.  Too good to be true or a one-in-a-million talent?

The implication:  U.S. riders Landis, Tyler Hamilton and Frankie Andreu, and Spaniards Roberto Heras and Manuel Beltran, all former Armstrong teammates, either have admitted to or been caught for doping.  Andreu admitted to doing it in 1999, which is significant because of ...
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In one lap, Tyson Gay shows history-making health

Tyson Gay achieved something remarkable when he ran the 400 meters in under 45 seconds two weeks ago in Gainesville, Fla.

With a time of 44.89, Gay became the only person to break 45 seconds in the 400, 20 seconds in the 200 (personal best: 19.58, 2009) and 10 seconds in the 100 (personal best: 9.69, 2009).

But what made the race really significant for the leading U.S. sprinter is that it showed Gay, 26, is back in top form after surgery last October to fix a chronic groin injury.

"I'm 100% in my recovery,'' Gay said during a Thursday teleconference. "The last time I was injury-free was 2006."

Gay said his fast 400 -- .68 seconds better than his previous personal best -- came "by accident.  I hadn't done any training in spikes or speed work or block starts. It was amazing."

Tyson Even though Gay intends to keep his focus on the 100 and 200, the events in which he won 2007 world titles, he will keep running the occasional 400, with the aim of some day earning a spot on a U.S. 4 x 400 team for a major championship.

"I've always had it in me to run a great 400,'' said Gay, a Tennessee prep champion in the one-lap race. "But I never liked doing it. And my high school coach always told me that if I showed my [college] coach I could run it, I would never get to run the 100 again. That's why I shied away from it, because I like running the 100.''

His next 400 is Saturday at the Jamaica Invitational in Kingston. 

"I'm actually nervous," Gay said of Saturday's race. "When I ran the 400 a couple weeks ago, it was at a small track meet and not a lot of pressure. I have a lot of professional athletes in this race."

(The field includes Renny Quow of Trinidad and Tobago, the 2009 world bronze medalist at 400.) 

Gay is running 400s this season to build strength and test his groin before returning to the short sprints. He may run the 100 against Jamaica's Usain Bolt at the June 12 Adidas Grand Prix event in New York.

It was at that meet two years ago that Bolt set a world record in the 100 and began to run away from his competition at that distance and the 200, both of which he won in a rout at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 world championships.

Some of Bolt's dominance has been credited to his one-in-a-million combination of foot speed and the enormous stride length that comes from being 6-foot-5.

"It's just unfortunate that he is taller than me," Gay said. "It actually allows me to look at myself as being a great talent, able to run close to his time [despite] only being 5-foot-11. He has the turnover and the stride length. I have the turnover, but I can't cover as much ground. There's nothing I can do about that."

Gay insists he is not frustrated by having gone from world champion to one of those futilely chasing Bolt.  Last year at the world championships, Gay lowered his 100 personal best from 9.77 to 9.71, only to be crushed by Bolt's world record 9.58.

"It's a huge motivational factor," Gay said of racing Bolt. "This is something the sport needs. It wouldn't be track and field without Usain Bolt. I'm very thankful he's running the times he is running, because they are just pushing me harder.''

Gay hopes that the drop in his 400 time will correlate to a drop in the 200, in which he also ran a personal best last year.

The 400 has taken on a strange dynamic this year after reigning world and Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt of the U.S. admitted last week to having tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid contained in a penile enhancement product Merritt said he had taken. It was yet another blow for a U.S. track program that cannot seem to escape having some of its biggest stars nailed for doping.

Asked if he were disappointed over having another big U.S. name sullied by doping, Gay said, "I've known LaShawn Merritt since he came on a visit to the University of Arkansas, and to me that's just not his character. I'm just shocked right now. Hopefully, everything comes out OK."

One of the defrocked 100-meter stars, Justin Gatlin, 28, is eligible to return July 24 after serving a four-year suspension for steroid use. Gatlin was 2004 Olympic champion in the 100 and 2005 world champion in the 100 and 200.  In his absence, first Gay and then Bolt ascended to the top of world sprinting.

"I haven't thought about Gatlin at all," Gay said. "I think it is going to be very tough for him to be in the fitness he was in before he left."

Bolt, who lost to Gatlin in the 200 final at the 2005 worlds, had expressed a similar opinion in a teleconference last week.

"It is going to be very hard to come back from that [layoff] and compete against us because the intensity of the competitions is getting harder," Bolt said. "I don't look forward to running with any one person. If he comes back and I compete against him, I have no problem with it.''

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Tyson Gay runs in the 2009 Golden Gala meet in Rome. Credit: Gregorio Borgia / Associated Press


Merritt, Olympic 400-meter champion, faces two-year suspension for substance found in male enhancement product ExtenZe [updated]

Reigning Olympic and world 400-meter track champion LaShawn Merritt faces a two-year suspension for what he said was use of an over-the-counter male enhancement product that he did not know contained the banned substance DHEA.

Merritt, 23, of Portsmouth, Va., was found positive for DHEA, a steroid, in three successive out-of-competition tests from October through January.

He called his use of the product a "foolish, immature and egotistical mistake.''

Doug Logan, the chief executive of USA Track & Field, said via telephone that Merritt had "sullied his career and put an unfortunate stigma on himself he is going to be living down the rest of his life."

Merritt has decided to accept a provisional suspension and not compete until his case is resolved. That would mean he would miss the 2010 season unless he asks for an expedited hearing.

His attorney, Howard Jacobs, said via telephone that Merritt has yet to decide about seeking quicker resolution of the case.

Merritt apologized for his mistake in the Thursday release from Jacobs that revealed the positive tests.

"To know I have tested positive as a result of a product I used for personal reasons is extremely difficult to wrap my hands around,'' Merritt said in the statement. "I hope my sponsors, family, friends and the sport itself will forgive me for making such a foolish, immature and egotistical mistake.

"Any penalty I may receive for my action will not overshadow the embarrassment and humiliation I feel.''

Jacobs said Merritt's appeal would be based on the "exceptional circumstances rule -- no fault or no significant fault.''

The three tests will be treated as a single positive. By accepting the provisional suspension in early April, any ban would begin from that date rather than a later date if Merritt had decided to keep competing.

Logan said Merritt’s admission "indicates an extraordinary lack of maturity and an absence of the responsibility necessary to be a world-class athlete. We are disgusted by this.

"This is not frivolous. It is something he selfishly did, as he acknowledges. This young man is going to find himself the object of a lot of unnecessary jokes."

In the statement, Merritt admitted he had not read the "fine print" on the product, which the Tribune has learned was ExtenZe.

Such lack of knowledge is generally not a viable defense in doping cases.

[Updated at 2:38 p.m.: DHEA is the third substance listed on the ingredients page of the company website. It is listed by both its common name, DHEA, and scientific name, dehydroepiandrosterone, on both the ExtenZe list and the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances.

Logan dismissed the idea of inadvertent use as an excuse in a statement issued by USA Track & Field.

"Any professional athlete in this sport knows that they are solely responsible for anything that goes into their bodies," he said. "For Mr. Merritt to claim inadvertent use of a banned substance due to the ingestion of over-the-counter supplements brings shame to himself and his teammates. Thanks to his selfish actions, he has done damage to our efforts to fight the plague of performance-enhancing drugs in our sport."

Merritt, who also won 4 x 400-meter relay gold medals at the 2008 Olympics and both the 2007 and 2009 world championships, had urine samples taken in October, December and January.

According to the statement from his attorney, Merritt did not learn of the positives until March.]

-- Philip Hersh

Sen. Hatch on USOC's side? What a joke

Hatch_250 I had to laugh when the U.S. OIympic Committee proudly announced Thursday it has Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on its side in the battle to stop what USOC calls "ambush marketing" by Subway and some other companies.

It made me feel the same way I did when Donald Fehr, a steroid stonewaller as head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was part of the Congress-appointed committee to reform the USOC in 2003.

Or the way I felt after I learned that the Governator, former steroid user Arnold Schwarzenegger, was carrying the Olympic torch in Vancouver on Friday.

Sen. Hatch long has fought U.S. Food and Drug Administration monitoring of the dietary supplement companies that have found his state a safe haven. There are more than 100 such manufacturers in Utah, making them one of the state's top five industries.

These are some of the companies whose unregulated supplements can contain unlabeled banned substances that often turn into positive drug tests for Olympic athletes.

Because the companies don't have to label accurately every ingredient in the supplements, anything goes.

Stick an unidentified steroid into a supplement, watch people rave about how strong they feel, see sales boom.

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WADA president: 30 athletes barred from Olympic competition

More than 30 athletes have been barred from competing at the Winter Olympics because of doping violations, the World Anti-Drug Agency announced Thursday.

WADA president John Faney confirmed the number during a news conference, but refused to identify or provide any details about the athletes who have been held out of competition. He said national sports federations were handling the cases.

Fahey said 70 athletes were prevented from competing at the 2008 Summer Olympics because of anti-doping violations. In addition, he expressed confidence in the testing program for the Games.

-- Austin Knoblauch

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


IOC seeks straight dope, action on widespread Russian doping

VANCOUVER, Canada -- International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is concerned enough about doping among Russian biathletes and cross-country skiers that he has raised the issue with Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev.

``We have alerted the Russian authorities, and we expect them to comply,'' Rogge said.

But Rogge said there was nothing he could do about the black eye created by having the only athlete to test positive at the 2006 Olympics back in competition at the 2010 Games.

Biathlete Olga Medvedtseva was known by her previous husband's name, Pyleva, four years ago, when she lost a silver medal in the 15-kilometer individual race and was suspended two years for use of a stimulant.

In 2007, the IOC decided that an athlete banned from one Olympics could not compete in the next.  Rogge said that could not be applied retroactively.

Eight Russian biathletes and cross-country skiers have been banned for doping since the end of the 2009 World Cup season.

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British anti-doping authorities to issue biological passports

In another effort to deter would-be cheaters, British anti-drug officials announced Friday they will provide its country's athletes with biological passports during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

The passport program, which is similar to a system already used by the International Cycling Union, will allow scientists to better detect abnormalities or unusual readings in blood samples.

Typical drug tests compare substance levels in the blood to the average levels found in the general population. Under the new system, scientists can compare results with each individual athlete's normal readings.

"We believe that this will act as a powerful deterrent for the good of all healthy athletes and maintain the integrity of sport," said Professor David Cowan, Drug Control Center director at the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory at King's College in London.

-- Austin Knoblauch

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


IOC may investigate Crystal Cox's doping admission

That didn't take long...

Less than a week after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced relay runner Crystal Cox had admitted to doping during the 2004 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee said it's considering opening an investigation into the matter.

An IOC spokesman said Monday that it is "considering setting up a disciplinary commission" to determine the fate of the women's 4X400-relay team that won the gold medal in Athens. The ruling council of the International Assn. of Athletics Federations also plans to tackle the issue at its meeting in March.

Cox, who accepted a four-year ban from competition and a disqualification of all her results from 2001 through 2004, will almost certainly be stripped of her gold medal. However, because Cox ran in the preliminaries and not the finals, it remains to be seen if her Olympic teammates will lose their medals.

Three U.S. relay teams were stripped of their medals from the 2000 Olympic Games because of doping. An entire team can be disqualified if one of its competitors -- even an alternate -- is found guilty of doping.

-- Austin Knoblauch

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Sprinter Crystal Cox suspended; relay team could lose gold medals

American sprinter Crystal Cox agreed today to a four-year suspension and a disqualification of her previous results after she admitted to doping during the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Cox will probably lose the gold medal she was awarded for being part of the 1,600-meter relay team in Athens. Because Cox ran in the preliminaries and not the final, it is unclear whether Olympic officials will strip the entire team of its medals. Sanya Richards, DeeDee Trotter, Monique Henderson and Monique Hennagan ran in the final.

Marion Jones' teammates from the 2000 Olympic Games lost their gold medals after she admitted to doping.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Chief Executive Travis Tygart applauded Cox for coming clean.

"You've got to give her credit for accepting responsibility," he said. "Hopefully this sends a strong message that if you're going to succumb to temptation, you have to remember the terrible position you're putting your teammates in."

Cox is suspended through January 2014 and will forfeit all of her results from 2001 to 2004.

-- Austin Knoblauch


Russian skier booted off team for allegedly doping

It appears another athlete will not be heading to Vancouver following allegations of doping.

Cross-country skier Alena Sidko has been dismissed from Russia's ski team after reportedly testing positive for the blood-boosting drug EPO.

Russian media reported earlier today that a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory in Barcelona confirmed that trace amounts of the banned drug were discovered in samples taken from Sidko last month.

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