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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 07:19 GMT 08:19 UK
America wakes up to doping nightmare
By Tom Fordyce

Kelli White's two-year doping ban slipped almost unnoticed into the sports pages.

How the Balco scandal has tainted athletics

It shouldn't have done.

White's ban marks what could be a major turning-point in the attitude of the world's most powerful sporting nation towards doping.

And that change could mean that the team the USA sends to the Olympics is missing some of its biggest and best-known stars.

America is slowly waking up to the fact that, after years of criticising the rest of the world, the worst offender in the anti-doping war may be itself.

White, world champion over 100m and 200m, is the highest-profile name is to banned this year. But she is only the tip of what many believe to be a substantial iceberg.

Since last August, four Americans - world indoor 1500m champion Regina Jacobs, US shot put champion Kevin Toth and hammer throwers Melissa Price and John McEwen - have been revealed as testing positive for banned steroid THG.

Four more - hurdlers Sandra Glover, Eric Thomas and Chris Phillips and sprinter Chryste Gaines - had positive tests for banned stimulant modafinil made public.

Now Tim Montgomery, world 100m record holder, has received a letter from the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) alleging doping violations.

There may be more to come. The difference this year is that the world is actually hearing about it - and that the athletes in question will pay the price.

'Conspiracy of silence'

Until the THG scandal broke, the attitude of US authorities seemed to involve carpets and sweeping things under them.

Jerome Young, who won 400m gold at last summer's Worlds, tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone in 1999 but was still allowed to compete in the 2000 Olympics, where he won gold as part of the 4x400m relay team.

Kelli White with her World 100m gold medal
White has been stripped of her 100m World gold

Young was one of 13 American athletes named by the Los Angeles Times as testing positive for drugs between 1996 and 2000 but whose names were not released by US Track and Field - a cover-up described by World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound as "a conspiracy of silence".

Meanwhile, Dr Wade Exum, former US Olympic Committee director for drug control, alleged last year that 19 American medallists - including Carl Lewis - were allowed to compete at the 1988 Olympics despite having earlier failed drugs tests.

But now White's ban indicates that the authorities have changed tack.

The anti-doping issue is now being taken so seriously that President Bush even made it part of his State of the Union address at the start of the year.

White was banned not because she actually tested positive for THG and EPO, but because the US Anti-Doping Agency had enough other evidence - doping schedules, emails detailing her drugs use - to convict her.

That means that other athletes - like Montgomery - could be banned from going to the Olympics even if they have never tested positive.

Compare this to the situation five years ago, when USTAF cleared sprinter Dennis Mitchell despite a positive test for testosterone, on the basis that Mitchell's elevated levels were the result of him enjoying sex with his wife at least four times and having drunk six bottles of beer the night before the test.

White the whistleblower

Nobody knows yet how badly the American Olympics team will be affected. But all the signs are that this story will only get bigger.

White has agreed to act as a whistleblower, telling USADA everything she knows about doping in the States. There is also the mountains of evidence gathered by the federal grand jury investigation into Balco, the company at the centre of the THG storm.

"I anticipate other athletes will be charged," said White, on accepting her ban.

As our graphic shows, Balco founder Victor Conte is at the centre of the latest batch of positive tests.

Conte, Balco vice-president James Valente, Dwain Chambers' former coach Remi Korchemny and Barry Bonds' personal trainer Greg Anderson have all been charged with supplying illegal performance-enhancing drugs to top sports competitors.

White, coached by Korchemny, has admitted taking a number of illegal drugs supplied by Balco. Chambers tested positive for THG in August last year.

Gaines, another coached by Korchemny, tested positive for modafinil. McEwen tested positive for both modafinil and THG, while Price, Toth and Jacobs also tested positive for THG, with Balco is widely believed to be the source of the steroid.

Marion Jones is the latest star to be dragged into the scandal.

She was one of the athletes called to testify in the grand jury investigation that resulted in the indictments, while it has been alleged that a $7,350 cheque from the sprinter's bank account was sent to Conte.

Marion Jones
Jones has never tested positive for any banned substance

Jones' former husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter, is alleged to have signed that cheque.

Hunter tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone four times before the 2000 Olympics, and it was Conte who appeared alongside him at a news conference in Sydney, claiming the test was a result of contaminated supplements.

Jones' lawyer Richard Nicholls told the BBC last week that the US anti-doping authorities do not have any proof to suggest that Jones ever took banned substances.

"The evidence they've given us I would not even characterise as evidence," said Nicholls. "It is weak."

Jones is also threatening to sue if she is prevented from taking part in the Athens Olympics without a failed drug test.

The pressure is now becoming intense on her current partner, Montgomery.

Both Jones and Montgomery were briefly coached by Ben Johnson's disgraced coach Charlie Francis before pressure from their sponsor Nike forced them to end the association.

Francis admitted in 1989 that he had encouraged Johnson, stripped of his gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics for doping, and other athletes he coached to use steroids.

He also stated that the only way an athlete could be successful was to take drugs, and was banned from coaching Canadian athletes for life.

Clock ticking

So what happens next?

The US authorities do not have much time to act if they wish to ban other athletes from making the Olympic team.

The US athletics trials start on 9 July, with the team due to be named on 21 July. Any potential bans are also likely to be challenged in the courts by the athletes concerned.

But the USOC is determined that the team they send to Athens does not contain any athletes tainted by doping.

Last November, the World Anti-Doping Agency's Dick Pound said, "There is an extraordinary capacity for double-think in the US.

"They delight in pointing the finger at everyone else and do not acknowledge there is a US problem."

Finally, that seems to be changing.

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