Sprinter Michelle Collins drops doping appeal, accepts suspension

Updated: May 19, 2005, 6:46 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Former world champion sprinter Michelle Collins accepted a four-year suspension for a doping violation, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Thursday.

Collins, who forfeits her titles in the 200 meters from the 2003 indoor world and U.S. championships, originally was suspended for eight years but appealed. USADA reduced the sanction to four years, and Collins agreed to drop her appeal.

An arbitration panel found that Collins, 34, used banned substances provided by BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. She never tested positive, but the panel concluded she used the drugs for several years.

The panel determined she had participated in a doping conspiracy and used prohibited drugs including the steroid THG and the endurance-enhancing hormone EPO. USADA based its case on patterns observed from blood and urine tests Collins had in recent years, along with documents seized from BALCO by federal prosecutors and statements made by BALCO officials.

Collins, who denies any wrongdoing, appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, in January. One of her attorneys, Brian Getz of San Francisco, said her decision to withdraw the appeal was based in part on injuries she was suffering.

"It's one thing to have a glittering career ahead and to be fighting USADA," he said. "It's another to be in a position where one can't race because of injuries and to be fighting USADA."

Attorney Michael Coffield of Chicago, who handled Collins' appeal, said she hasn't ruled out competing in the 2008 Olympic trials.

"She's a tough lady and she believes in herself and believes she was wronged by this process," he said. "But when you're faced with the opportunity to get it behind you emotionally and stand up and say `I have not done anything wrong, I don't agree that I have ever taken any banned drugs knowingly,' that's what she's doing."

USADA general counsel Travis Tygart said the agreement will allow the agency to conserve resources for its monitoring, research and educational activities.

"The four-year sanction is in line with the other BALCO cases where the athletes did not cooperate," he said. "We are satisfied that that was a fair resolution to the matter. It's another chapter of the BALCO story that's successfully closed for the good of clean athletes."

The arbitrators' ruling said Collins used "multiple drugs over a substantial period of time." The drugs, combined with the timing, "were designed, even more than the usual doping offenses, not to be detected," the ruling said.

USADA was not testing for EPO, which increases red blood cell counts, in 2003. But the arbitrators said Collins submitted to blood tests through independent laboratories that showed elevated levels of red blood cells in early February 2003, a month before the world indoor championships.

Dr. Michael Sawka, who analyzed the blood tests, said he had not seen such high levels, even in Army soldiers in a doping experiment following rigorous high-altitude exercise, which would be expected to raise red blood cell levels, the ruling said.

Collins was the third BALCO-associated athlete who was judged to have been using banned drugs without a positive blood or urine test, USADA said.

With Collins stripped of her 2003 U.S. indoor title in the 200, USA Track & Field last year named runner-up Allyson Felix the new champion. Muriel Hurtis of France inherited the world indoor title for 2003.

BALCO head Victor Conte and three other men connected to the lab have pleaded innocent to charges of distributing steroids to top athletes. The trial is scheduled to begin in September.

Twelve U.S. athletes and one British athlete connected to the BALCO scandal either have been suspended or given public warnings for doping. Five of the cases went through hearings before arbitration panels.

Of the 13, 10 tested positive for THG or the banned stimulant modafinil -- two of the drugs linked to BALCO -- and six of the 10 accepted the sanction recommended by USADA.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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