Edwin Moses Says It's Not Fair to Punish Athletes Retroactively

Times Staff Writer

The only people more curious than track coaches, a man once said, are field coaches. International track and field officials this week might have eclipsed them both.

In the World Championships at Rome two years ago, the long jump competition was fixed so that an Italian, Giovanni Evangelisti, would win a bronze medal.

The official alleged to have been the fixer was Luciano Barra, a special assistant to Primo Nebiolo, the president of the Italian federation. Nebiolo also is president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which governs track and field.

So who is listed as one of the two technical delegates to the IAAF's World Cup, which begins Friday at Barcelona's Montjuic Olympic Stadium? Luciano Barra.

The Evangelisti case is pertinent to the news from here this week because he was the last person in a major international competition forced to forfeit a medal because of a subsequent development.

Until Tuesday.

On that day, the IAAF Congress voted to strip athletes of their records, titles and results if they later confessed to having used banned substances before those performances.

Although other athletes may be affected, no one denies that the rule was aimed at Canadian Ben Johnson, who presumably will disappear from the official IAAF record book for a six-year period from 1983-89. He will lose both the gold medal and the world record of 9.83 seconds in the 100 meters from the 1987 World Championship.

He admitted in June to having used anabolic steroids since 1981, but his results for the first two years will not be purged because of a six-year statute of limitations.

He also will remain in the Olympic record books for 1984, when he won a bronze medal in the 100 meters at Los Angeles. President Juan Antonio Samaranch of the International Olympic Committee said after delivering a speech to the Congress here Wednesday that Johnson will not be asked to return that medal.

Samaranch, a supreme politician, dodged commenting on the IAAF's decision, which means that he probably did not agree with it.

Arguing in favor of the rule before Tuesday's vote, IAAF Vice President Ollan Cassell of the United States used Evangelisti as an example, no doubt to the embarrassment of Nebiolo. Evangelisti's bronze medal was awarded to American Larry Myrick after an investigation had determined that Italian officials purposely mis-measured their compatriot's jump.

"I'm very proud of this congress, that we have the courage to correct mistakes," Cassell said. "We know when mistakes have been made, so we rectify them and go forward."

Not necessarily following Cassell's lead but respecting his position, the United States' three-man delegation voted for the rule. But one of them, hurdler Edwin Moses, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was having second thoughts Wednesday.

On one hand, Moses is a hard-liner in his attitudes against the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes. Name an anti-drug commission in international sports, and he probably is a member. He is chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee's Substance-Abuse Committee.

On the other hand, Moses, who has taken this year off from competition to concentrate on the drug wars, is also on virtually every athlete's commission. From that perspective, he said that he does not believe it was fair to pass a rule that punishes Johnson and other athletes retroactively.

"If you have a rule, it should start from the day you legislate it," Moses said. "But if you just want to make a rule that applies specifically to Ben, then you should have the guts to stand up and say, 'Ben, we're taking your record away.' Instead, we did it the gutless way by passing a rule that we will likely never apply again."

If the IAAF wanted to send a more threatening message to drug users, Moses said, it should have passed a resolution increasing the suspension for a first offense from two years to four. Although that proposal had the support of the IAAF Athlete Commission, it was defeated, 61-42.

"No one takes two years seriously," he said.

But Moses said that he is satisfied that sports governing bodies finally are implementing out-of-competition testing, an approach he has been suggesting for six years. A program adopted by the IAAF this week will allow officials from a country to select athletes from other countries for mandatory drug testing with only a short notice.

Moses said in 1983 that 40%-60% of elite track and field athletes were using drugs in training. He estimated that the figure today is about the same.

"But if we'd had this challenging system eight years ago, if I had been able to select athletes that I wanted to see tested, you wouldn't see the same world-record list that you see today," he said. "There would be a lot of changes."

As it stands, we will see one change on Jan. 1, 1990. The 9.92 seconds that Carl Lewis ran in finishing second at the Seoul Olympics will replace Johnson's 9.83 from Rome in the record books. Johnson ran 9.79 at Seoul, but that was never certified as a world record because he tested positive for a steroid at the Games. So Lewis will have his first individual world record to go along with his six Olympic gold medals.

"I don't know how much it will mean to Carl," Moses said. "I know I would feel strange if I had become the world record-holder that way. I'd much prefer to do it in a race that I won.

"It seems like we're manipulating history. I don't think anybody is ever going to forget what happened. Maybe in 100 years. But every time somebody talks about Carl Lewis' world record, Ben Johnson is going to be on their minds."

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