Big-name positives test credibility of sports

Big-name positives test credibility of sports

LONDON – The credibility of athletics and cycling were called into question again in 2006 when the Olympic 100-metres champion and the Tour de France winner both tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone.

Even though their events have long been associated with performance-enhancing drugs, the shock and disappointment at the downfall of Justin Gatlin and Floyd Landis reverberated around the sporting world, not least because both had appeared to herald a new era. American Gatlin jointly holds the 100-metres world record of 9.77 seconds with Asafa Powell of Jamaica and many had hoped the fledgling rivalry between the two 24-year-olds would take athletics out of the dark days of the BALCO scandal.Landis had provided a fairytale victory in a Tour that had threatened to become engulfed in scandal before it started when nine riders, including 1997 winner Jan Ullrich and Giro d’Italia champion Ivan Basso, were suspended by their teams because they were implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.”The image of your sport and right now your flagship event is in the toilet and you’ve got to do something about it or the risk is that your sport will be ignored by everybody, marginalised by others and it won’t be sport any more,” World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) chairman Dick Pound said at the time.German Ullrich and Italy’s Basso denied all allegations of doping.The Spanish Cycling Federation abandoned disciplinary proceedings against all the riders in October and Basso, at least, will be back in action in 2007 after joining Armstrong’s old Discovery Channel team.But the 30-year-old Landis appeared to put valour back into the Tour, producing an astounding comeback in the final mountain stage a day after spectacularly cracking.Speaking at the end of the three-week race, Tour director Christian Prudhomme said: “Landis’s performance not only left its mark on the 2006 Tour, it also left its mark on the whole history of the race.”He had no idea how prophetic those words would become.On July 27, Landis’s Phonak team announced he had tested positive for excessive amounts of the male sex hormone testosterone after his amazing victory on stage 17.POSSIBLE BAN The second ‘B’ sample confirmed the result, leaving the American facing a two-year ban and the ignominy of becoming the first Tour champion to be stripped of his title.After being charged by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Landis will make his case at a hearing of the American Arbitration Association next year.With the ink barely dry on the Landis headlines, world 100 and 200 metres champion Gatlin revealed on July 29 that he had tested positive for testosterone or its precursors in April.Gatlin, known for speaking out against drug use, had already had his career threatened in 2001 by a positive test for an amphetamine he took for attention deficit disorder.He was reinstated early from that two-year ban.”It is simply not consistent with either my character or my confidence in my God-given athletic ability to cheat in any way,” Gatlin said in July.The sprinter has been suspended for up to eight years pending an appeal.To add to the sport’s woes, Gatlin’s coach Trevor Graham was indicted by a U.S.grand jury last month on three counts of making false statements related to steroid distribution.Graham, who triggered the BALCO scandal in 2003 when he anonymously sent a syringe of the designer steroid THG to USADA, has pleaded not guilty.JONES CLEARED More than six athletes Graham has coached have been suspended for doping or tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, including sprinter Tim Montgomery.One of Graham’s former athletes, Marian Jones, who was investigated in connection with the BALCO scandal although never charged, found her name being dragged into the mire again when she gave an initial positive test for the banned blood-booster erythropoietin (EPO).Jones, the ex-partner of Montgomery, has repeatedly denied taking performance-enhancing drugs and was cleared of doping in September after her ‘B’ sample proved negative.At February’s Winter Olympics in Turin the presence of banned Austrian coach Walter Mayer prompted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and police to raid hotels housing the country’s cross-country skiers and biathletes.Ten athletes were tested for drugs and cleared after Mayer fled the scene.He was later arrested when he crashed his car into a police roadblock.The fall from grace of some of sport’s biggest names this year gave IOC President Jacques Rogge cause for optimism in the battle against doping.”I think we are making progress because as you have seen a lot of very famous athletes have been caught and that proves exactly that the system is working,” he said in September.However, the year ended with the case of Pakistan cricketers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif highlighting inconsistencies in the way different sports deal with doping offences.The two bowlers were cleared by a Pakistan Cricket Board appeals tribunal after initially being banned for testing positive for the steroid nandrolone.The tribunal ruled they had not had sufficient warning that the supplements they were taking could be contaminated by the steroid.Nampa-Reuters * Additional reporting by Julien Pretot in ParisAmerican Gatlin jointly holds the 100-metres world record of 9.77 seconds with Asafa Powell of Jamaica and many had hoped the fledgling rivalry between the two 24-year-olds would take athletics out of the dark days of the BALCO scandal.Landis had provided a fairytale victory in a Tour that had threatened to become engulfed in scandal before it started when nine riders, including 1997 winner Jan Ullrich and Giro d’Italia champion Ivan Basso, were suspended by their teams because they were implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.”The image of your sport and right now your flagship event is in the toilet and you’ve got to do something about it or the risk is that your sport will be ignored by everybody, marginalised by others and it won’t be sport any more,” World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) chairman Dick Pound said at the time.German Ullrich and Italy’s Basso denied all allegations of doping.The Spanish Cycling Federation abandoned disciplinary proceedings against all the riders in October and Basso, at least, will be back in action in 2007 after joining Armstrong’s old Discovery Channel team.But the 30-year-old Landis appeared to put valour back into the Tour, producing an astounding comeback in the final mountain stage a day after spectacularly cracking.Speaking at the end of the three-week race, Tour director Christian Prudhomme said: “Landis’s performance not only left its mark on the 2006 Tour, it also left its mark on the whole history of the race.”He had no idea how prophetic those words would become.On July 27, Landis’s Phonak team announced he had tested positive for excessive amounts of the male sex hormone testosterone after his amazing victory on stage 17.POSSIBLE BAN The second ‘B’ sample confirmed the result, leaving the American facing a two-year ban and the ignominy of becoming the first Tour champion to be stripped of his title.After being charged by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Landis will make his case at a hearing of the American Arbitration Association next year.With the ink barely dry on the Landis headlines, world 100 and 200 metres champion Gatlin revealed on July 29 that he had tested positive for testosterone or its precursors in April.Gatlin, known for speaking out against drug use, had already had his career threatened in 2001 by a positive test for an amphetamine he took for attention deficit disorder.He was reinstated early from that two-year ban.”It is simply not consistent with either my character or my confidence in my God-given athletic ability to cheat in any way,” Gatlin said in July.The sprinter has been suspended for up to eight years pending an appeal.To add to the sport’s woes, Gatlin’s coach Trevor Graham was indicted by a U.S.grand jury last month on three counts of making false statements related to steroid distribution.Graham, who triggered the BALCO scandal in 2003 when he anonymously sent a syringe of the designer steroid THG to USADA, has pleaded not guilty.JONES CLEARED More than six athletes Graham has coached have been suspended for doping or tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, including sprinter Tim Montgomery.One of Graham’s former athletes, Marian Jones, who was investigated in connection with the BALCO scandal although never charged, found her name being dragged into the mire again when she gave an initial positive test for the banned blood-booster erythropoietin (EPO).Jones, the ex-partner of Montgomery, has repeatedly denied taking performance-enhancing drugs and was cleared of doping in September after her ‘B’ sample proved negative.At February’s Winter Olympics in Turin the presence of banned Austrian coach Walter Mayer prompted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and police to raid hotels housing the country’s cross-country skiers and biathletes.Ten athletes were tested for drugs and cleared after Mayer fled the scene.He was later arrested when he crashed his car into a police roadblock.The fall from grace of some of sport’s biggest names this year gave IOC President Jacques Rogge cause for optimism in the battle against doping.”I think we are making progress because as you have seen a lot of very famous athletes have been caught and that proves exactly that the system is working,” he said in September.However, the year ended with the case of Pakistan cricketers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif highlighting inconsistencies in the way different sports deal with doping offences.The two bowlers were cleared by a Pakistan Cricket Board appeals tribunal after initially being banned for testing positive for the steroid nandrolone.The tribunal ruled they had not had sufficient warning that the supplements they were taking could be contaminated by the steroid.Nampa-Reuters * Additional reporting by Julien Pretot in Paris

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