As camera flashes went off all around her last Saturday night,
Kelli White stepped down from the podium in the crowded interview
room of Paris's Stade de France and placed her hands over her
head to shield herself from the unwanted trail of photographers.
The attention had felt much better two days earlier, when White
recounted her resounding triumph in the 200 meters at the World
Track and Field Championships. That victory, and her earlier win
in the 100, had confirmed her as the world's fastest woman--at
least in the absence of Marion Jones, who just had a baby--and
certified her as the new star of U.S. track.
Now she was left to explain how her drug test after the 100-meter
final had come back positive for a stimulant called modafinil.
She said the drug was in a prescription medication she had
recently begun taking for narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that has
long afflicted her family. Before the meet she had listed several
medications she was taking on a declaration form, but she failed
to note the modafinil because, she said, it is not on any banned
list. "I have never taken any substance to enhance my
performance," she insisted.
Nevertheless, Arne Ljungqvist, head of the medical commissions of
both the IOC and track's governing body, the IAAF, said on
Saturday that modafinil is one of the unspecified "related
substances" that are banned by the two organizations. "An
exemption was neither declared nor sought [by White]," he added.
As SI went to press, the sprinter's punishment, if any, had not
been determined. If found guilty, she will at least lose her
medals from the worlds. However, because modafinil is new to drug
testers, they haven't classified it as either a heavy stimulant
(such as an amphetamine, which carries a two-year suspension) or
a light stimulant (e.g., ephedrine, which would likely entail a
warning). The drug may be classified as early as next week.
The revelation about White further soiled a U.S. program that has
recently suffered one disgrace after another, including the
stripping of the Pan American Games' 100-meter gold medal from
Mickey Grimes last month after a positive test for ephedrine; Jon
Drummond's over-the-top tantrum after being DQ'd for a false
start in a 100 heat in Paris; and the Aug. 27 report in the Los
Angeles Times that Jerome Young, the winner of the 400 at the
worlds, had produced a positive sample test for the steroid
nandrolone in 1999 yet had been allowed to compete in the 2000
Olympics. (USA Track and Field had cleared Young but never
released his name; Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping
Agency, last week called for the revocation of the U.S.'s 4 x 400
relay gold medals from the Sydney Games because Young ran in a
September 7, 2003
Though the worlds were in many respects a disaster for the U.S.,
the team rallied on Sunday, winning three relays to finish atop
the medals chart with 20, 10 of them gold. Among the Americans
who fared best in Paris were Allen Johnson, who took his fourth
world title in the 110 hurdles (with a time of 13.12 seconds),
and fellow winners John Capel in the 200 meters (20.30 seconds),
Dwight Phillips in the long jump (27' 3 3/4") and Tom Pappas in
The 6'5" Pappas may be the feel-good story that U.S. track needs
before next year's Athens Olympics. Soft-spoken and hardworking,
inspired by a father who had polio, Pappas, 26, of Knoxville,
Tenn., is suddenly the favorite in one of the Games' marquee
events. Even better, his great-grandfather emigrated to the U.S.
from Athens, so Pappas might have all of Greece on his side. "The
Olympics could be a home meet for me," he says. It remains to be
seen whether White will be there to cheer him on.