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ANALYSIS : Group Improves Sport by Taking a New TAC

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last month, leaders of the organization that governs U.S. track and field were boasting about their innovative, year-round drug-testing program.

In a telephone news conference May 9, Ollan Cassell, executive director of The Athletics Congress, said the program was unsurpassed.

“We feel that our drug-testing program is currently the best in the United States,” Cassell said. “It is probably the most comprehensive in the world.”

Now, in an apparent reversal, TAC leadership is trying to distance itself from drug testing of its athletes.

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Frank Greenberg, TAC president, said Tuesday that his group expects to announce a transfer of its extensive drug-testing program to the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The Athletics Congress is one of 41 national governing bodies under the USOC umbrella. The USOC already administers track and field drug testing at major meets.

Harvey Schiller, executive director of the USOC, said his group is close to preparing a model out-of-competition program for 10 to 12 sports, among them track and field.

He said officials are working out the so-called protocol issues--those of collection of samples, supervision and chain of custody. Although he would not give a date for implementation, he said the program would start soon.

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Even if USOC doctors administer the tests, each governing body will still have jurisdiction over enforcement and punishment, which some believe has been the problem all along.

Edwin Moses, the world-record holder in the 400-intermediate hurdles and a member of the USOC athletes advisory committee, has long advocated independent testing.

Documents obtained by The Times two weeks ago showed flaws in TAC’s handling of drug positives.

Greenberg also said that he wants to shift the testing to an independent agency so that TAC can concentrate on other issues--namely, battling the deterioration of its sport.

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The causes of the deterioration? Here are some reasons:

--The continuing publicity about drug use has turned some of the sport’s most ardent fans into skeptics. In the two years since Ben Johnson of Canada tested positive for use of a steroid after winning a gold medal in the 100-meters at Seoul, track has been in upheaval.

A Canadian government inquiry into the Johnson scandal only strengthened the feelings of disgust. Attendance at meets has dropped dramatically throughout North America.

--The recent release of Carl Lewis’ book, “Inside Track, My Professional Life in Amateur Track and Field.”

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Lewis, a six-time gold medal winner in two Olympic Games, is one of the country’s most famous track athletes. He has long feuded with TAC officials, and boycotted last year’s national championship meet.

Track’s tainted image might be further sullied by Lewis’ disclosure that he was given money by the Nike shoe company while competing at the University of Houston--a violation of NCAA rules.

He said in his book that the original contract was for a modest sum. Later, it was renegotiated into a six-figure contract and included larger bonuses for winning Olympic gold medals, achieving top rankings in the 100-meter dash and long jump, and setting world records.

--The May resignations of four members of TAC’s drug-testing custodial board--Moses, Harvey Glance, Linda Sheskey and Doraine Lambelet.

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They are respected TAC members, and Moses, in particular, is a popular performer. He is a four-time Olympian from Newport Beach who has been an outspoken critic of drug use in track since 1983.

The frustrations spilled over at this month’s national championships at Cerritos College in Norwalk. Fewer than 7,000 attended the three-day meet, partially sponsored by The Times and Mobil.

Two weeks before, the Cerritos stadium was packed for the California Interscholastic Federation high school championships.

“We will end up taking a bath on this,” said Will Kern, the meet director from The Times’ special events department. “I don’t know if it is the Ben Johnson thing or the Carl Lewis thing, but it is pretty obvious--no one wants to watch track and field.”

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That frustrated the country’s best track athletes, many of whom met with officials well into the night on the final day of the meet to vent their displeasure.

Most fingers were pointed at Cassell, who has led TAC since its inception in 1978.

TAC’s executive committee has scheduled a meeting July 7 and 8 in Chicago to address these problems. Some members said they will try to persuade the committee to initiate a change of the organization’s course.

Simply, they would like to reduce Cassell’s power and have a more open dialogue between committee members and the national officers.

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Privately, some executive committee members say they are frustrated by Cassell for what they claim are past circumventions of TAC by-laws.

This was best illustrated in the handling of the investigation of Chuck DeBus, a former women’s track coach at UCLA and Cal State Northridge. DeBus has been accused of providing banned drugs to athletes. TAC was found to have offered DeBus a deal in which he would receive a reduced suspension in return for naming athletes he claimed had used drugs.

Although DeBus provided a list of names, the deal fell through. The case still is pending, although TAC’s statute of limitations may have been violated by prolonging the case.

The executive committee cannot change TAC by-laws, but it can recommend revisions for a vote at the yearly convention.

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This is not the first time Cassell, a gold-medal winner in the 1,600-meter relay at the 1964 Olympics, has come under scrutiny within his organization. He has withstood other moves to replace him, but this could be his toughest battle.

Indications are that this latest movement would encourage a new harmony within TAC. Many disgruntled members--volunteers who have worked to keep the sport afloat--have quit.

Greenberg said he hopes they will return.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people quietly,” Greenberg said. “I’m certainly working in that direction, I think that’s my function as the president (bringing TAC back together).”

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Greenberg said officials have been aware of the sport’s decline for two or three years, and have designed a plan to combat it.

“I don’t think there are any short-term fixes,” said Greenberg, who did not say what the specific plans were.

Glance, who resigned in frustration in May, also sees a unification of of factions. He said athletes’ complaints are finally being considered.

And that may be all it takes to get the organization back on track.

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