Enough Is Enough

"I have never knowingly used any banned substance and blah, blah, blah...." It was a very sad week for sports
August 06, 2006

Cycling became asick joke when the urine sample Floyd Landis submitted after his "ride forthe ages" in stage 17 of the Tour de France tested positive for abnormallevels of testosterone. ¬∂ "You know what's killing me?" Landiscomplained to SI's Austin Murphy from a Paris hotel room. "I've never hadsuch a beautiful view of the Champs-Élysées and the Eiffel Tower. And I can'tenjoy it."

Welcome to ourworld, Floyd.

Everyone--notjust cycling fans--wanted to believe that Landis's solo attack over 80 milesand three mountain passes was righteous. Then came the news of the "adverseanalytical finding," as the International Cycling Union describes abust.

That wasfollowed, in short order, by a press release from Justin Gatlin, the reigningOlympic gold medalist and the world champion and co-world-record holder in the100 meters. Through a New York City public-relations firm Gatlin explained thathe, too, tested positive for "testosterone or its precursors" and facesa lifetime ban from competition. He could also be stripped of his world record:He ran a 9.77 in Doha, Qatar, on May 12 to tie the mark set by Asafa Powell ofJamaica.

Gatlin had to beacutely aware of the stakes. He is the biggest name in his drug-embattled sportand thus the athlete most capable of further damaging it. "I understandwhat it would mean to track and field if I ever tested positive or went down insome scandal," Gatlin told SI's Tim Layden in April. "Not to have anego about it, but that might be the KO for our sport."

Way to go,Justin.

Gatlin returned acellphone call to Layden late Saturday afternoon and said, "I've knownabout this for a few weeks, and we're trying to figure out what happened."A few weeks? What happened?

Gatlin's positivetest came at the Kansas Relays on April 22, where he ran a leg on the winning4√ó100-meter relay team three days after his interview with SI. According to oneof his lawyers, Gatlin was notified on June 15 that his A sample had testedpositive and on July 12 that his B sample was positive. Gatlin's specimen wasscrutinized using carbon isotope ratio testing, and the results made it all butcertain that he had taken synthetic testosterone. On Monday The New York Timesreported that the same test found evidence of the illegal substance in Landis'ssystem.

Not that cyclingdidn't look hypocritical or ridiculous before Landis got busted. Two of hisPhonak teammates were among the 13 riders given the boot from the '06 Tour fortheir alleged involvement in Operación Puerto, a Spanish doping investigationthat has ensnared some 58 professional cyclists--and it is hardly reassuringthat only five riders were cleared. That same sting led to the expulsion fromthe Tour of prerace favorites Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, who was recentlyfired by T-Mobile.

SI's Murphyrecalls taking copious notes during a phone interview with Landis's ex--Phonakteammate Tyler Hamilton, who tried to explain how it had come to pass thattests had detected the presence of someone else's blood in his veins during theVuelta a España in 2004. Hamilton argued that he was a chimera--someone withtwo types of blood, the result of having shared his mother's womb with avanished twin.

Is the VanishingTwin Defense less credible than Landis's initial explanation, the WhiskeyDefense? You decide. Alcohol use shortly before major exertion can cause aspike in testosterone. Landis said, in his first teleconference, that he downedsome beer and passed around a bottle of Jack Daniels with some of the Phonakguys after stage 16, the better to take the edge off that day's meltdown, whichcost Landis eight minutes, dragging him from first place to 11th.

And that, we wereleft to surmise, is what got the testosterone flowing the next day. This is notso far afield of the Beer and Sex Defense put forth by U.S. gold-medal-winningsprinter Dennis Mitchell. When he, like Landis, was found to have an unusuallyhigh T/E ratio, Mitchell explained that he had drunk a lot of beer and had sexmultiple times with his wife on the eve of the test. He was banned for twoyears in 1998.

Lance Armstrong,who weathered various doping allegations--none ever proved--while winning theprevious seven Tours, repeatedly stated last week that he will withholdjudgment on his fellow American until the results of Landis's B sample areknown. Armstrong also had this advice for his former US Postal Serviceteammate: "If you believe you're innocent," he said on ABC News overthe weekend, "then you stand up and fight."

So Landis has,asserting, with increasing boldness, that his high testosterone levels were"absolutely natural and produced by my own organism." This is where hisride started to get even bumpier. Over the weekend came reports from Europeannews outlets that his T/E ratio was not a high but explicable 4 to 1 but anIncredible Hulk--like 11 to 1. More damning still were the revelations aboutthe carbon isotope ratio tests. If the those reports are true and the B sampleconfirms the presence of synthetic testosterone hormone in his urine, then youcan put the Whiskey Defense to rest because the game is over. "In such acase," according to the World Anti-Doping Agency's officialprohibited-substance list, "no further investigation is necessary."

Gatlin, who facesa much steeper climb to exoneration than Landis, has been a study in contrastssince ascending to the top of the sprint world with his Olympic title in Athensin 2004. USA Track and Field had placed Gatlin at the forefront of itspublicity campaign, spotlighting him to erase the stigma of the BALCO scandal."I'm a champion and a role model," Gatlin told SI last summer inHelsinki before winning two gold medals. He seemed relentless in his hubris,expressing the importance of competing clean.

Yet he has beencoached throughout his professional career by Trevor Graham, the Raleigh-basedsprint coach of at least six athletes who have received drug bans, includingformer 100-meter-record holder Tim Montgomery. Graham is widely believed to bethe person who sent the steroid-laced syringe to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in2003, triggering the BALCO scandal. What are we to take from that action? ThatGraham wished his sport were cleaner? It's hard to say because on Sunday hedefended Gatlin, going further than even Gatlin's lawyers, saying that hethinks a masseuse with a grudge tainted Gatlin during a rubdown. Yes, and thedog ate his homework....

Landis,meanwhile, uses language that sounds too well chosen and thoroughly lawyered.He may be innocent; he just doesn't talk that way. His is the summer'ssecond-saddest face, right behind that of Barry Bonds, who limps, harassed andmiserable, through an awful season while baseball fans agree on two things: 1)he cheated, and 2) he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Landis and Gatlin will catchno such break.

Gatlin's summerwas expected to culminate in a megabucks showdown with Powell that would send acharge through the sport. Instead, he will not compete again until his case isresolved by USADA or a court of arbitration, and it appears possible thatneither Gatlin nor track and field will recover.

As for Landis, ifhis B sample comes back clean, so what? He'll get to keep that blue bowl theygave him on the Champs-Élysées, but what will we get? The memory of a carefullyworded explanation and the bitter taste of yet another sport we can no longertrust.

 

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ILLUSTRATIONIllustration by John Cuneo

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Eagle (-2)
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