No, not gymnastics!
It was a privilege when I got to chronicle Lance Armstrong's final three Tour de France victories, an exhilirating experience to see the daily pageantry of the Tour stages and to witness athletic history being made. I grew to love the sport as well, to marvel in the efforts it took to pedal a bicycle through 100-degree heat, fog and rain over 10,000-foot-high mountains.
Even as it became impossible to ignore the crescendo of drug scandals, I still always think about how hard it was to drive a car up the switchbacks of L'Alpe d'Huez and almost understand why cyclists used extreme measures to keep up their endurance.
So today I was in the middle of a phone call to a cycling team director in France, who was speaking about how cycling was feeling a glimmer of hope. The Tour de France starts Saturday, and there are several new team sponsors and some optimism for the beleaguered sport. While I was talking, I clicked on an e-mail from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announcing that gymnast Morgan Hamm had tested positive for a banned substance. The cycling team director said, "Hah, if that had been a cyclist, he'd already have a two-year ban."
According to Hamm and his coach, Miles Avery, Hamm took a cortisone shot in his sprained ankle on May 2. The ankle has been troubling Hamm all season. According to the USADA
announcement and Avery, the injection would have been fine if Hamm had filled out paperwork stating that the injection was a medical necessity. Because of the injection, Hamm failed a drug test conducted in Houston at the U.S. nationals.
USADA issued no suspension, only a warning. Avery said he and Hamm made a mistake. The proper paperwork should have been filled out and filed. "The shot was permissible as long as we filled out the forms," Avery said Thursday. "Morgan will need another one before Beijing too. As long as we do the paperwork, it's fine."
As it turns out, the bigger problem than the warning from USADA may be the competitve consequences. It is possible that his results from the second day of nationals will be invalid because of the failed test. Those results played a part in Hamm's being named to the six-man Olympic team.
Almost more ominous than the USADA announcement was a statement released by USA gymnastics president Steve Penny. "USA Gymnastics is investigating the statement from USADA and we will work with USADA, the USOC and Morgan to determine the next best steps."
The interpretation? It is possible that Morgan Hamm might not have qualified for the team. The U.S. men's selection committee used a mathematical formula that included the two nights of competition at the nationals and two nights at the Olympic trials that included weighted results on each event depending on finish.
"Morgan earned his way onto that team," Avery said. "It was a simple mistake. Morgan went to the doctor. The doctor told him the best thing to do was take the shot and Morgan did what his doctor told him. Should he have known to fill out the forms? Sure. USADA had to give us a warning. They did. But there is no reason Morgan shouldn't be on that team."
For now, USA Gymnastics isn't ready to make the same statement.
A certain trio of alternates -- Alexander Artemev, Raj Bhavsar and David Durante -- might just want to pick up the training intensity.
-- Diane Pucin
Photo: Morgan Hamm holds his ankle after completing his routing on the exercise floor during the men's first day of competition for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials two weeks ago. Credit: Rob Carr / Associated Press