Sprinter Excited About Reprieve

Times Staff Writer

Every day, Torri Edwards ran as if she were preparing for a major competition, giving herself a focus and purpose.

As soon as she left the track at UCLA she’d step back into the nightmare she’d lived since she was banned from the sport for two years for testing positive for a banned stimulant.

Feeling droopy because of a cold before a meet in Martinique in April 2004, Edwards said she asked her physical therapist to buy her sugar pills at a sundry store.


The tablets turned out to be laced with nikethamide, the use of which had merited merely a warning seven weeks earlier. However, a newly aggressive code adopted by the World Anti-Doping Agency leading up to the Athens Olympics elevated the punishment for taking nikethamide to a suspension, and she lost an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in which she contended she was unaware of the tablets’ ingredients.

“She would still come to practice every day,” said John Smith, her coach with the HSI track club, “and I would hug her and we’d go over in the corner and cry together.”

Edwards, the 2003 world champion in the 100 and silver medalist in the 200, found a shred of hope when WADA began to consider reclassifying nikethamide and other stimulants. Arne Ljungqvist, vice president of the International Assn. of Athletics Federations and chair of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission, championed her cause and was instrumental in WADA’s decision in September to downgrade nikethamide to a specified substance whose use will result in a warning or a short ban.

Based on the legal principle lex mitior, which allows for the imposition of a milder penalty because of a rule change, Edwards was reinstated last week by the IAAF’s ruling council pending a drug test.

“The IAAF wishes to see strong penalties for real cheats. This was a different case,” Ljungqvist said via e-mail. “I did not feel comfortable when I had to defend the then-existing rules against her at the CAS hearing in Athens.

“I judge that Torri has paid a high price for having inadvertently taken a particular substance at the ‘wrong’ time, shortly before [the reclassification] and from now on such an intake would result in a warning only.”


Edwards, who will be 29 in January, is already planning to run indoors.

“I had great family support, great friends, and a coach who supported me the whole time,” she said Wednesday. “Being out there with the team helped me stay sane.”

Edwards remained in Athens after she lost the CAS appeal and watched the Olympic sprints believing she could have been on the medal stand. She finished second in the 100 at the U.S. trials, a spot ahead of Athens silver medalist Lauryn Williams, and third in the 200.

“I had teammates competing and I wanted to support them,” Edwards said. “It was difficult watching the 100 meters and 200 meters and knowing I would have competed well. I was in great shape, and ready to go. I think I would have run fast.

“I went to a lot of meets, just watching my teammates and the competition. You can always learn by watching what other people do.”

Smith said Edwards is smarter and fitter now, adding that she came within five-hundredths of a second of her best time in the 300 during a time trial before the world championships in August at Helsinki.

“She has definitely grown up,” he said. “When something you love has been taken from you, fairly or unfairly, it changes you.


“Torri told the truth. She accepted the consequences and took it on the chin and handled it. She didn’t try to run from it or lie. She got caught in the political climate and she served a reasonable time, and now it’s time to go forward. The biggest fear an athlete can have, she’s already faced.”