Merritt, Olympic 400-meter champion, faces two-year suspension for substance found in male enhancement product ExtenZe


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Reigning Olympic and world 400-meter track champion LaShawn Merritt faces a two-year suspension for what he said was use of an over-the-counter male enhancement product that he did not know contained the banned substance DHEA. Merritt, 23, of Portsmouth, Va., was found positive for DHEA, a steroid, in three successive out-of-competition tests from October through January. He called his use of the product a ‘foolish, immature and egotistical mistake.’’ Doug Logan, the chief executive of USA Track & Field, said via telephone that Merritt had ‘sullied his career and put an unfortunate stigma on himself he is going to be living down the rest of his life.’ Merritt has decided to accept a provisional suspension and not compete until his case is resolved. That would mean he would miss the 2010 season unless he asks for an expedited hearing. His attorney, Howard Jacobs, said via telephone that Merritt has yet to decide about seeking quicker resolution of the case. Merritt apologized for his mistake in the Thursday release from Jacobs that revealed the positive tests. ‘To know I have tested positive as a result of a product I used for personal reasons is extremely difficult to wrap my hands around,’’ Merritt said in the statement. ‘I hope my sponsors, family, friends and the sport itself will forgive me for making such a foolish, immature and egotistical mistake. ‘Any penalty I may receive for my action will not overshadow the embarrassment and humiliation I feel.’’ Jacobs said Merritt’s appeal would be based on the ‘exceptional circumstances rule -- no fault or no significant fault.’’ The three tests will be treated as a single positive. By accepting the provisional suspension in early April, any ban would begin from that date rather than a later date if Merritt had decided to keep competing. Logan said Merritt’s admission ‘indicates an extraordinary lack of maturity and an absence of the responsibility necessary to be a world-class athlete. We are disgusted by this. ‘This is not frivolous. It is something he selfishly did, as he acknowledges. This young man is going to find himself the object of a lot of unnecessary jokes.’ In the statement, Merritt admitted he had not read the ‘fine print’ on the product, which the Tribune has learned was ExtenZe. Such lack of knowledge is generally not a viable defense in doping cases.

[Updated at 2:38 p.m.: DHEA is the third substance listed on the ingredients page of the company website. It is listed by both its common name, DHEA, and scientific name, dehydroepiandrosterone, on both the ExtenZe list and the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances. Logan dismissed the idea of inadvertent use as an excuse in a statement issued by USA Track & Field. ‘Any professional athlete in this sport knows that they are solely responsible for anything that goes into their bodies,’ he said. ‘For Mr. Merritt to claim inadvertent use of a banned substance due to the ingestion of over-the-counter supplements brings shame to himself and his teammates. Thanks to his selfish actions, he has done damage to our efforts to fight the plague of performance-enhancing drugs in our sport.’ Merritt, who also won 4 x 400-meter relay gold medals at the 2008 Olympics and both the 2007 and 2009 world championships, had urine samples taken in October, December and January. According to the statement from his attorney, Merritt did not learn of the positives until March.] -- Philip Hersh