Another Positive Doping Test Casts Shadow on Sports
LIANE HANSEN, host:
With the sports world already reeling over the suspicious drug test result from Tour de France champion Floyd Landis, another famous American athlete has revealed a positive test for a banned substance. Justin Gatlin, the defending Olympic champion and co-world record holder for the 100-meter sprint, announced yesterday he tested positive for the steroid testosterone in the spring. The 24-year-old Gatlin says he never knowingly took banned drugs.
Joining us now us is NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
Tom, the last time we heard from Justin Gatlin, just a few months ago, he had tied the 100-meters world record with Jamaican Asafa Powell. There was a lot of excitement because there was this merging rivalry in track and field, this glamour event. And now this news that I understand may mean a lifetime ban for Gatlin? What happened?
TOM GOLDMAN reporting:
That's right, Liane. Well, according to a statement Gatlin released yesterday, he tested positive in April at a track meet in Kansas. And he tested positive for what he called testosterone or its precursors. Now, ironically, the substance at the center of the Floyd Landis controversy is testosterone. While Landis, though, had what's being called an abnormal result on a urine test that measures the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, Gatlin's test result is more clear-cut. Testers apparently used a more sophisticated screening process that's called the carbon isotope ratio test. And that's much more reliable in identifying testosterone that's not naturally produced in the body, meaning something added to the system.
Final confirmation of Gatlin's positive test reportedly came two and half weeks ago. According to his lawyer, Gatlin accepted a provisional suspension. Pending outcome of the legal process, he'll now certainly undertake to try to clear his name. And in a statement, Gatlin said, quote, I cannot account for these results because I have never knowingly used any banned substance or authorized anyone else to administer such a substance to me, end quote.
HANSEN: Track and field, Tom, is one of those sports that already has a bad reputation when it comes to doping. The BALCO doping scandal led to the suspensions of several top-flight track athletes. So is this news about Gatlin surprising?
GOLDMAN: Well, yes and no. Yes, it's surprising because Gatlin represented this new generation of track and field athletes emerging from the BALCO scandal, athletes talking a lot about competing drug-free. Gatlin in particular has been outspoken, urging kids not to use banned performance-enhancing drugs. And he really was the voice of experience. In 2001, he was suspended after testing positive for a stimulant and that turned out to be in medication that he'd been taking since childhood for attention deficit disorder. So his ban was shortened because of that. But since this recent positive result was his second infraction, he faces, as you said earlier, a possible lifetime ban and the loss of his co-world record.
Now, the news is not surprising to some because of Gatlin's associations. He has been coached by Trevor Graham, who is being investigated as part of the ongoing BALCO scandal. Several of Trevor Graham's athletes have been suspended for using banned drugs. Graham denies any drug involvement, but ironically - the irony of ironies here - he was the guy who started the BALCO investigation after he sent a syringe filled with an undetectable steroid to U.S. anti-doping officials.
HANSEN: So what's been the reaction to the news about Gatlin?
GOLDMAN: I would say, in boxing terms, first the Landis news and then the Gatlin news from yesterday is like a one-two punch combination. Peter Ueberroth, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said in a statement late yesterday, We have reached a tipping point in the fight against doping in sports. The cold reality is this. We are not yet winning the battle, and if we are ultimately to succeed, we must become smarter, more efficient and more effective in our efforts. The status quo will not work.
HANSEN: You've mentioned Floyd Landis. What's the latest on his situation?
GOLDMAN: Well, right now we're waiting for test results on Landis's backup or B-sample to either confirm the initial abnormal reading or show the reading wasn't correct. Even Landis said he expects confirmation but he plans to continue fighting to exonerate himself, as does Justin Gatlin.
HANSEN: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
Tom, thanks a lot.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Liane.
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