Kelli White, considered the foremost threat to fellow American Marion Jones’ domination of the women’s sprints with less than a year to go before the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, has tested positive for a stimulant and could be banned from competition for two years.
White, 26, of Union City, Calif., might also lose the gold medals she won in the 100 and 200 meters last week in track and field’s world championships pending further investigation by the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, the sport’s world governing body. She also would forfeit $120,000, $60,000 for each victory, in prize money from the IAAF.
White was favored to win a third gold medal Saturday night at Stade de France in the 400 relay but withdrew even though she remained eligible. The U.S. team, with Torri Edwards of Los Angeles anchoring instead of White, finished second to France.
The IAAF confirmed Saturday a report in L’Equipe, the French daily sports newspaper, that White had tested positive after the 100 final a week ago today for modafinil, a stimulant found in a prescription drug sold under the brand name Provigil in the United States.
Dr. Arne Ljungqvist, IAAF senior vice-president from Sweden and the chairman of the organization’s anti-doping commission, said White’s drug test from the 200 final Thursday night has not been evaluated. But he speculated that, considering the amount of time the substance remains in the system, the second test also would be positive. Regardless, a doping offense from the 100 would erase all of her subsequent results in the meet.
White’s participation in the relay would have jeopardized the entire team.
Modafinil, Ljungqvist said, is a psycho-stimulant used most often in the treatment of narcolepsy, a disease that causes sudden fatigue or sleepiness. According to the Web site for Biogenics Laboratories of South Africa, modafinil belongs to a class of drugs called eugeroics, which means “good arousal.”
In a news conference late Saturday night, White said that she has been taking Provigil with a prescription for narcolepsy for several months under a doctor’s supervision.
“Close members of my family have been under doctor’s care for the condition of narcolepsy for years,” she said, reading from a prepared statement. “I, too, have been diagnosed with this condition by my physician.
“He prescribed the drug Provigil for this condition and I have taken it in certain circumstances, including prior to the 100 meters. It has improved the condition in my day-to-day life and helped me function normally.”
According to a French government health Web site, 2.6 of every 10,000 people under age 60 suffer from narcolepsy.
“We will find out whether her explanation holds water,” said Mark Gay, the IAAF’s legal counsel.
Modafinil is not on the banned list of either the IAAF or the World Anti-Doping Agency, but, as a performance-enhancing stimulant, Ljungqvist said it is considered a related substance that can result in disqualification.
He said White clearly violated IAAF rules when she failed to disclose before the 100 meters that she was taking the drug. She did, he said, list other substances, supplements, which were not revealed in her drug test.
“She should have [disclosed],” Ljungqvist said. “Even before, she should have asked for a prior exemption to use [modafinil]. That is, of course, a problem for her when her case will be evaluated.”
White said, “Given that it was not on the banned list, I think it is understandable why I didn’t realize that I needed to declare it on my doping control form.”
Gay said the drug would be investigated to determine whether it is a heavy or a light stimulant. The use of heavy stimulants, such as amphetamines, result in two-year suspensions. A light stimulant, such as ephedrine, results in a one-time warning.
“It remains to be clarified where exactly this [drug] belongs,” Ljungqvist said.
The French government, which has been particularly vigilant in the battle against performance-enhancing substances in sports since its celebrated drug bust several years ago in the Tour de France, has asked WADA to place modafinil specifically on its banned list. According to L’Equipe, WADA is considering the request.
Also according to the newspaper, the drug has been prevalent in sports among rally drivers, who must remain awake for long hours while driving hundreds of miles each day during races.
White tested positive at a meet in Paris last summer for a corticosteroid, which is banned in France for sports use but not by WADA. As a result, she was suspended as of January for six months from competing in France. The suspension ended in June.
White, whose mother was a Jamaican Olympian and whose father ran for California, was an outstanding sprinter in high school in Union City and at Tennessee but not on the international level until this year.
With Jones out of competition because of the birth of her son in June, White finally had a breakthrough performance at this summer’s national championships in Palo Alto, where she won the 100 and the 200.
She duplicated the feat here, winning the 100 in 10.85 and the 200 in 22.05. Both were world-leading times for this year and personal bests.
USA Track & Field has been under scrutiny for its drug policies since the revelation in The Times last week that a 400-meter runner, Jerome Young, was allowed to compete in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney even though he had tested positive for a steroid the year before.
USATF officials had no comment on White’s case.
If White is disqualified, Edwards would move from second to first in the 100 and from third to second in the 200. The new winner in the 200 would be Russia’s Anastasiya Kapachinskaya.