Sprinter Jerome Young, whose positive test for steroids in 1999 threatens to cost the entire U.S. 1,600-meter relay team its gold medals from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, has been banned for life after testing positive this summer for the banned blood booster EPO, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Wednesday.
Young, 28, of Fort Worth, tested positive for EPO on July 23 at a meet in Paris. The 2003 world champion at 400 meters, he did not contest the matter before USADA. Under World Anti-Doping Agency rules, a second doping violation means a lifetime ban from competition.
The ban, USADA announced Wednesday, took effect Nov. 3.
“It’s a tragedy,” Young said in a telephone interview. “I’m an innocent person.”
He also said, “This whole thing, I can’t believe I’m banned for life. I still can’t believe it. I didn’t come into the sport for this.”
His former coach, Raymond Stewart, called the ban “sad” but “weird.” He said, “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
The action Wednesday further complicates the politically charged matter of the U.S. relay medals, currently up for consideration before the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. Three of the six U.S. runners on the Sydney relay team have been hit in recent weeks with major doping-related sanctions: Young and twins Calvin and Alvin Harrison, 30, of Raleigh, N.C.
The court has not indicated when a decision would be issued.
In modern Olympic history, only two Americans have received medals, then been ordered to return them: Jim Thorpe, who won gold in the decathlon in the 1912 Stockholm Games, and Rick DeMont, winner of gold in swimming in the 1972 Munich Games.
Young ran in the early rounds of the 1,600 relay at the Sydney Games. Neither he nor Angelo Taylor, who also ran in the preliminary rounds, ran in the finals. The finals four -- Antonio Pettigrew, the Harrison twins and Michael Johnson -- breezed to victory. Nigeria finished second, Jamaica third, the Bahamas fourth.
Alvin Harrison last month accepted a four-year suspension for multiple doping violations revealed in the course of the BALCO investigation.
Calvin Harrison in August drew a two-year ban after a positive test last year for the stimulant modafinil.
CAS ruled June 29 that Young -- who did not qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics -- should be stripped of his gold medal because of a positive test June 26, 1999, for the steroid nandrolone. Young had been cleared to compete in Sydney by a USA Track and Field appeals panel, acting in secret.
It had been widely known in Sydney that a U.S. athlete had tested positive for something before the Games but had been cleared to compete. The athlete’s identity remained secret until Aug. 27, 2003, when The Times identified him as Young.
In its June ruling, CAS left open the question of whether the other runners on the U.S. relay also ought to lose their medals.
In July, track’s worldwide governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, ruled that all six U.S. runners should be stripped of the medals because Young had taken part -- prompting the turn to CAS.
“Nobody’s medal should be taken,” Young said.
WADA President Dick Pound said late Wednesday: “If I understand the rules correctly, if you have someone ineligible, that disqualifies the team, end of story.” He also said, “USATF knew full well [Young] had tested positive. It’s outrageous what they did. They put the other five at risk by entering him.”
The matter presents a particularly sensitive challenge for the U.S. Olympic Committee. The Young case for years strained relations between U.S. and international sports authorities and, as well, between the USOC and USATF.
The USOC has spent much of the last 18 months aggressively confronting a perception worldwide that it had been soft on anti-doping issues. It nonetheless has taken up defense of the medals -- with the exception of Young’s -- in large part because Johnson, one of the nation’s legendary Olympians, anchored the relay.
The Sydney relay medal marked the fifth Olympic gold of Johnson’s career.