U.S. sprinter Jerome Young should be stripped of the gold medal he won in the 1,600-meter relay at the 2000 Sydney Olympics because he tested positive for a banned steroid in 1999, the world’s top sports court ruled Tuesday.
The ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland capped a dispute that for years had produced tension between U.S. track and Olympic officials, and soured U.S. relations with international sports authorities. Anti-doping authorities hailed it as a landmark event.
“If you cheat,” said Dick Pound, president of the World Anti-Doping Authority in Montreal, “those who are responsible for protecting innocent athletes are going to pursue you until justice is done. That is what has happened here.”
The arbitration panel said that Young, 27, of Fort Worth, should have been banned for two years after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone in June 1999. That would have left him ineligible for the Sydney Games.
In a statement issued by his attorney, Young said he had “never taken a prohibited substance” and called the ruling “fundamentally unfair.”
Meanwhile, the ruling immediately produced a problem for track’s worldwide governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, as well as for the International Olympic Committee. Should Young alone lose his medal? Or should all six U.S. runners on the 1,600-meter relay team, including legendary sprinter Michael Johnson, who ran the anchor leg in the finals at the Sydney Games, be stripped?
In modern Olympic history, only two Americans have received medals, then been forced to return them: Jim Thorpe, who won gold in the decathlon at Stockholm in 1912, and swimmer Rick DeMont, who won gold at Munich in 1972.
The IAAF must now recommend an option to the IOC. The issue is complicated by goodwill toward Johnson in particular -- he was featured in a recent edition of Olympic Review, the IOC’s magazine -- by the ongoing BALCO doping scandal-investigation, and by claims by the teams from Nigeria, Jamaica and the Bahamas, the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in the race.
Jim Scherr, chief executive of the USOC, said in a statement that the USOC hoped the IAAF and IOC would consider the “fairness and equities of the situation before determining what effect, if any, [Tuesday’s ruling] has on the gold medal won in Sydney by the relay team.”
The three-member arbitration panel said it had been urged -- it was not clear by whom -- to order the surrender of all six medals. It said it did not “necessarily accept that, in the unusual circumstances of the present case, this consequence must follow.”
Even so, Lamine Diack of Senegal, the IAAF president, said in a telephone interview that all six U.S. runners must forfeit their medals.
“It’s the only thing we can have,” he said. “I will open it to my colleagues ... but I think it is the decision we have to take.”
Sir Arlington G. Butler, president of the Bahamas Olympic Assn., said in a telephone interview that “fairness and equities” cut in favor of his team -- which, he said, was clean and deserved bronze.
“I’m of the opinion that once a race has been contaminated by anybody who happens to have been involved, there ought to be disqualification of the team,” Butler said. “You can’t be a little bit pregnant.”
Recent precedent suggests that the IAAF will recommend the IOC take all six medals. The IAAF announced in April that it had stripped the British 400-meter team of the silver medals that team won at last year’s World Championships because Dwain Chambers, who ran the anchor leg, had tested positive last August for THG, the designer steroid at the center of the BALCO scandal.
In another BALCO-related development, Alvin Harrison, who ran the first leg of the 1,600 relay for the U.S. team in Sydney, is one of four U.S. sprinters now facing a lifetime ban from competition in the wake of doping allegations leveled by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The others are Tim Montgomery, Chryste Gaines and Michelle Collins.
USADA, in a letter June 7, alleged that, beginning in early 2001, Harrison used four steroids, among them THG, as well as the blood-booster EPO, human growth hormone, insulin, the stimulant modafinil and “substances identified as ‘B’ and ‘P.’ ” It is not clear what “B” and “P” might be.
Through his lawyer, Harrison has called the charges “reckless and unfounded.”
Alvin Harrison’s twin brother, Calvin, who also ran on the 1,600 relay team at Sydney, faces a two-year ban after testing positive last summer for modafinil.
In Sydney, Young ran in the preliminary and semifinal rounds of the relay. Also running in the early rounds was Angelo Taylor. Running in the final round were Alvin Harrison, Antonio Pettigrew, Calvin Harrison and Johnson.
It had been known for years in track and Olympic circles that a U.S. athlete had tested positive for something before the Sydney Games but had been cleared to compete. The Times identified the athlete as Young last Aug. 27. He tested positive for nandrolone on June 26, 1999.
A USA Track & Field hearing board had originally found against Young. However, a USATF appeal board, acting in July 2000, just days before the Olympic trials, cleared him to compete. The hearing and appeal were conducted in secret, depriving IAAF of a chance to review the case.
The USOC confirmed in September that Young was the athlete at issue and then pushed USATF to disclose its files. Under threat of sanction from the USOC, USATF did so in February, leading to Tuesday’s ruling.
The current world 400-meter champion, Young remains eligible to compete now. He is widely considered a contender for a 2004 Olympic berth. The U.S. Olympic trials begin July 9 in Sacramento.