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Last Updated: Sunday, 31 August, 2003, 00:21 GMT 01:21 UK
White's black day

By Tom Fordyce
BBC Sport at the Stade de France

She should have been celebrating her third gold medal of these World Championships. Instead, Kelli White was fighting for her athletics future.

In a stuffy room deep in the bowels of the Stade de France, the 100m and 200m champion was seated in front of 250 journalists, trying to convince them that she deserved to hang on to her gold medals.

Kelli White
There wasn't space for 250 journalists, but no-one cared. This was the biggest story of the championships, and everyone wanted to be there.

The new star of world sprinting, the darling of the American team, up on a doping charge?

Forget the fact that, upstairs in the stadium, 72,000 French men and women had just cheered their 4x100m relay team to a splendid gold. This was where the real action was.

At the start of the day it was nothing more than an allegation in a single French newspaper: American athlete fails drugs test.

Initial reaction was cynical. The so-called illegal drug wasn't even on the IAAF's list of banned substances.

The French were simply stirring, trying to shake up the American relay team to give their own girls a better chance.

Were we looking at another Ben Johnson, or simply an Alain Baxter?

How could White get in trouble for something that hadn't been outlawed?

But as the hours went by, the story got bigger. Rumours began to fly around of police raids on athletes' hotel rooms.

Arne Ljundqvist of the IAAF came out and said that White was in trouble. The substance found in her urine sample might not have been named exactly on the banned list, but it was closely related to some that were.

Panicked members of the media ran around seeking clarification. Did this mean that White was a cheat or not?

Were we looking at another Ben Johnson, or simply an Alain Baxter?

When White finally appeared at 9.27pm, the atmosphere was solid with tension. There wasn't room to swing a peanut, let alone a cat.

To a strobe-like explosion of camera flashes, she walked onto the tiny stage with an official from US Track and Field.

Dressed in a black roll-neck sweater and with her hair pulled back tight in a bun, she looked utterly different to the powerful, muscled sprinter who had crossed the line in triumph just two days before.

It's hard to remember everything that you have taken during the day
Kelli White
With her voice catching, she read from a prepared statement. Ten minutes later, after answering about nine questions, she abruptly left the room.

There was one phrase she kept coming back to in various slightly different versions: "I know I did nothing wrong."

But the sentence that everyone will remember almost came out by accident.

Asked why she had not declared that she was taking a prescribed medicine to combat narcolepsy, she replied, "It's hard to remember everything that you have taken during the day."

It was a slip of the tongue, yet the looks on the faces all around told you exactly how the world would interpret it.

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