Just a Dash of Drugs in Lewis, DeLoach
Track stars Carl Lewis and Joe DeLoach, who won gold medals at the Seoul Olympics, tested positive before those 1988 Summer Games for trace amounts of stimulants commonly found in cold medicines, but under the rules in place then and now deserve to be cleared of any suggestion they used performance-enhancing substances, according to documents obtained by The Times.
In three separate tests conducted at the Olympic trials in July 1988, Lewis registered levels of two parts per million, four parts per million and six parts per million for a combined mixture of three stimulants found in common cold remedies: ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine.
DeLoach, tested once, registered a combined level of seven parts per million.
Under International Olympic Committee rules in place then, any level between one and 10 parts per million was subject to further investigation. Under U.S. Olympic Committee rules, that meant evidence proving “sole intention” to dope. The USOC’s executive director at the time, Baaron Pittenger, who conducted the investigation, said Tuesday he found no such intent, thus exonerating the two athletes.
Under the current rules, the levels the two athletes recorded are so minimal they would not even qualify to be reported as a doping offense under what the IOC calls its “strict liability” system -- meaning that if it’s in your body, you’re liable. Those rules rely on threshold levels, with different thresholds for different chemical substances; the levels at issue for Lewis and DeLoach are well below the thresholds.
“Based upon the rules and my experience in other cases ... it looks like a loser of a case to prosecute,” said Rich Young, a Colorado Springs, Colo., attorney and one of the principal drafters of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s newly ratified global anti-doping code, referring to Lewis and DeLoach.
The materials obtained Tuesday illustrate the complexity and nuance of the anti-doping rules over the years in the Olympic arena, and raise significant questions about the scope and nature of documents identified in recently published reports purporting to cite more than 100 positive drug tests for U.S. athletes from 1988 to 2000.
Included were test results, memos or letters indicating drug positives for athletes who won 19 medals from 1984 to 2000, and at least 18 athletes who tested positive in the Olympic trials and were allowed to compete in the Games.
Lewis, DeLoach and tennis star Mary Joe Fernandez were the most recognizable names in those documents, published in Sports Illustrated and the Orange County Register. Publication has sparked concern from around the world that the USOC had engaged in a cover-up, an allegation USOC officials have long and consistently denied.
“Everyone knows I am an athlete against drug use, and always have been,” Lewis, a nine-time Olympic gold medalist, said Tuesday in a telephone interview with The Times.
The winner of the 100-meter race at Seoul, declared the victor after Canadian Ben Johnson was disqualified after the race for steroid use, Lewis added, “People against me -- they may feel like they have ammo or evidence. I don’t think so.”
DeLoach, who won the 200 meters, could not be reached for comment.
Fernandez, meantime, told the Reuters news service Tuesday that she had simply taken over-the-counter Sudafed, which contains pseudoephedrine. U.S. tennis officials issued a statement backing Fernandez, who won bronze in singles and gold in doubles in 1992 in Barcelona, gold in doubles in Atlanta. Experts said Tuesday it’s possible that even two Sudafeds -- a common dose -- could produce elevated levels of pseudoephedrine.
Meantime, Darryl Seibel, the USOC’s spokesman, said late Tuesday, “There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any official affiliated with the USOC ever took part in an effort to suppress the results of a test in order to allow an athlete to compete at the Games. The applicable rules at the time were in fact applied.”
Former U.S. Olympic Committee director of drug control Wade Exum had planned to enter the thousands of pages of documents in court as part of a lawsuit filed in Denver against the USOC. The case was dismissed shortly before trial was to begin; the documents surfaced shortly thereafter.
“I am extremely disappointed in Wade Exum basically being vindictive in causing problems because he couldn’t get what he wanted,” Lewis said. “I am very disappointed in that.”
Exum could not be reached for comment.
The documents obtained Tuesday by The Times refer specifically only to the Lewis and DeLoach cases -- but raise questions about the nature and scope of all 100 purportedly positive tests. Included in the materials is a letter reviewing the two cases signed by Don Catlin, the director of the UCLA lab that has long been a central U.S. Olympic testing facility.
At the time, DeLoach and Lewis were training partners. Lewis said the elevated levels came not from a cold remedy but from ingesting an herbal dietary supplement he had bought. He said he could not remember where he purchased it, the name of the product, how often he used the pills or for how long.
At the time, he said, “I took all kinds of different herbs,” adding, “I didn’t get a boost. If I’d known it had ephedrine [in the pills], I wouldn’t have taken it. It didn’t say it on the bottle.”
Under anti-doping protocol in place in 1988, concentrations of ephedrine-like substances between one and 10 parts per million were referred to the USOC -- to investigate whether an athlete had used a substance “with the sole intention of increasing in an artificial or unfair manner his performance in competition.”
Pittenger asked for samples of the pills -- he said Tuesday he could not remember the name of the product either -- and found it contained ma huang, another name for ephedrine.
“You take ‘sole intent,’ the level of which today would not even be reported and ... I thought without question that it was inadvertent use and didn’t meet the ‘sole intent’ criterion,” he said. “I am not the least bit defensive about the decision that was made.”
Added Neal Benowitz, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco who is an expert on ephedrine and other stimulants, “These [levels] are what you’d see from someone taking cold or allergy medicines and are unlikely to have any effect on performance.”
In 1990, doping protocol changed, the IOC issuing a circular directing that concentrations under five parts per million for ephedrine and 10 parts per million for pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine, also known as PPA, not even be reported.
As science got more precise, those thresholds were raised in 2000 to 10 parts per million for ephedrine and 25 for pseudoephedrine and PPA.
Lewis said of the results, “I’m not making a lot of it because that’s just the way life is. I’ve danced at this party for a long time.”