Rough Sledding

Olympic drug enforcers can seem like heroes in their own right--until they bust an innocent man like skeleton racer Zach Lund
February 27, 2006

As the broadcast ofthe men's Olympic skeleton competition ended in Cesana Pariol last Fridaynight, Zach Lund, the best American in that event, sat motionless before the TVin the living room of his parents' Holladay, Utah, home. His sadness waspalpable. It would have been easier for him to watch, he said later, had hisU.S. teammates raced well. But Eric Bernotas, Kevin Ellis and Chris Soule mademistakes Lund said he never makes and finished sixth, 17th and 25th,respectively. Earlier, when the actual event had ended--Lund watched it onNBC's tape delay--2002 gold medalist Jim Shea Jr., who was at the venue inItaly, had called. "I know if you were here, you would have won thegold," Shea told him.

"That made mefeel good," says Lund.

Feel-good momentshave been few lately for Lund, 26, who was banished from the Games andsuspended for a year on Feb. 10 for failing a drug test. Usually, an athletewho runs afoul of Olympic doping laws becomes a target for scorn, a cheaterferreted out by the most stringent drug code in sports. The program overseen bythe World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) is often spoken of as a model forMajor League Baseball and other organizations. But, as Lund's case shows, itcan also be rigid and unfair, a system that dashes the dreams of the innocentand underscores the mess that performance-enhancing drugs have made throughoutsports.

Last November,Lund, who at the time was near the top of the World Cup standings andestablishing himself as the slider to beat in Turin, tested positive forfinasteride, an ingredient in Propecia and Proscar, hair-restoration productshe has been using--to restore his thinning hair--since 1999. During his firstfive years on the drugs, Lund noted on predrug test forms that he was usingthem, and he kept abreast of changes to WADA's list of banned substances. Buthe failed to check in 2005--the year finasteride was added as a suspectedmasking agent for steroids. Though he continued to indicate his use of Proscar,he didn't find out finasteride was banned until he was notified in mid-Decemberthat he had failed the seventh test he took last year.

At first it seemedsanity would prevail. The usually aggressive United States Anti-Doping Agency(USADA) reviewed his case and decided Lund was "not a doper" but wasusing finasteride "for a legitimate medical reason," says USADA generalcounsel Travis Tygart. The agency issued a warning, but no suspension, on Jan.23, and Lund took his spot on the Olympic team. But on Feb. 2, WADA, which hadnever before challenged a USADA decision, asked the Court of Arbitration inSport (CAS) for a two-year ban for Lund. In a decision that was handed down inTurin as Lund was preparing for the opening ceremonies on Feb. 10, CASconcluded that Lund is "no cheat"--but because the tribunal is bound bymandatory sentencing rules for positive tests, it gave Lund a yearlongsuspension. "Mr. Lund was not well-served by the anti-dopingorganizations," proclaimed the panel. "But, unfortunately, in 2005 hemade a mistake."

Lund was crushed.He had to make what he calls "a walk of shame" past other athletesgathering for the opening ceremonies and surrender his credential to the IOC.He stands to lose much more. One sponsor has dropped him. (Lund won't say who.)If another, The Home Depot, follows suit, he could lose his job as well as hisfunding. "I'll lose my house and may have to live in my parents'basement," says Lund.

Lund has beenstripped of his annual stipend from the USOC and stands to lose access to USOCcoaching and training facilities during the ban. This is not a concern ofWADA's, which last Saturday underscored its get-tough policies by prompting araid by Italian police of the rooms of several Austrian skiers suspected ofharboring a former coach who was banned for suspicion of doping in 2002."Other athletes all over the world had been sanctioned for a year or morefor using [finasteride]," says WADA chairman Dick Pound. "The wholepoint of WADA is to get the same rules to apply to all athletes."

Establishingcommon-sense rules that distinguish between mistakes and offenses is still nota priority. "It doesn't seem fair that someone like Zach Lund gets a yearand [U.S. sprinter] Tim Montgomery, who engaged in a pattern of doping, getsonly two," says Tygart. "Our resources should be devoted to those whoare violating the rules intentionally."

Lund says he willwork to change the rules so that individual doping cases can be viewed on theirmerits. "I'm going to have the last word in this," he says. "Inever realized how bad the system really is and how few rights athleteshave." Taking on WADA, he adds, "might be a harder challenge thangetting into the Olympics. But I'm going to give it my all, just like I gave itmy all to be an Olympian." Look for him in Vancouver in 2010, when he'll bea little older, wiser and, no doubt, balder.

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"Bonds says he's playing psychological games withhimself."  --FOR THE RECORD, PAGE 24

 

ILLUSTRATIONILLUSTRATION BY JOHN CUNEO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)