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Wednesday, September 27
Athletes sense a witch hunt in Sydney

SYDNEY, Australia -- She wasn't trying to pull a fast one. Her team's doctor prescribed it to get rid of her cold symptoms. And it probably wouldn't have helped her performance anyway.

The International Olympic Committee disputes none of these statements. So how come Andreea Raducan, barely out of childhood, lost Romania's first gymnastics gold medal since Nadia Comaneci simply for taking cold medicine?

Chalk it up to the IOC's newly updated, comprehensive and sometimes confusing "zero-tolerance" policy, which is evoking harsh assessments from people who watch athletics for a living.

Their conclusions: The code is contradictory, incoherent and in some cases plain unfair. What's more, it's being administered by an organization whose own recent scandals call into question its role as a moral authority.

"A cold remedy? Give me a break. They've got bigger and better fish to catch," says Angela Schneider, a 1984 rowing silver medalist who now teaches at the University of Western Ontario's International Center for Olympic Studies.

"What have we really caught?" she wonders.

In one week, a flurry of doping eruptions have turned a smooth, sports-focused pageant into a sticky hodgepodge of allegations, denials, sanctions and innuendo.

Four athletes have surrendered medals. On Wednesday, the ugliness played out in public: In Olympic Stadium, Romanian world record hammer thrower Mihaela Melinte, who tested positive for the steroid nandrolone, was escorted away just before her competition.

The IOC defends its new policy, which took effect Jan. 1, and even incorporated an anti-doping statement into the athletes' pledge at the opening ceremony. Director general Francois Carrard has said he doesn't blame Raducan and doesn't think her doctor did it deliberately. But, he says, rules are rules.

"I can share the feelings of people who think it's tough. But that's the point," Carrard said Wednesday. "The fight against doping has been very seriously intensified. This was a request by the world at large."

No one disputes the world's distaste for athletes who dope -- or, as Carrard calls them, cheats. Even White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey, a vocal IOC critic, praised this week's busts as "the beginning of a new era." But the efforts to uncover cheats -- and the damage control that follows -- have sullied an otherwise smooth games.

There was the German runner who, after testing positive for steroids, insisted his toothpaste was spiked. There was the Romanian weightlifter who threatened to commit suicide on the weightlifting platform if he wasn't cleared. There were the Bulgarian lifters expelled for a diuretic that their Olympic committee's chief swore they'd never take "because it is very primitive."

And there was C.J. Hunter, the gargantuan American shot putter tearfully lamenting a positive steroids test, his track-star wife Marion Jones at his side. "I don't know what has happened," he said, blaming nutritional supplements.

"The usual excuse," scoffed IOC executive board member Jacques Rogge.

Undoubtedly, many are guilty. But the brouhaha taps into societal confusion that has vexed Western drug policy for years -- how to balance "zero tolerance" with the need to bend on borderline cases, including those who didn't mean to transgress.

"If intention is irrelevant, that needs to be clearly understood," says Jamie Nettleton, an Australian sports lawyer.

No one thinks Raducan's case was anything but borderline -- especially given the odd decision that allowed Romania to keep medals for the team competition she helped win.

"Letting her keep her other gold and other silver -- it's like being a little bit pregnant," says Charles Yesalis, author of "The Steroids Game" and a Penn State University professor who researches drugs in athletics.

"Their drug policy has been convoluted and insincere for 40 years," Yesalis says. "This poor young girl is like a sacrificial lamb so they can catch somebody."

The banned-substances roster is complicated. It lists scores of substances with names like clostebol, bambuterol and spironolactone, then adds that, despite appearances, "this is not an exhaustive list."

Mark Levinstein, a Washington attorney who represents athletes in doping cases, smells a rat. He says the IOC has gotten "out of control in wacko directions."

He wonders why some substances are universally banned even though they enhance performances in only a few sports. And he says the "misguided" doping policy allows the committee to manipulate the process, prevent PR disasters and exonerate whoever it wants -- while still appearing diligent.

"It's nothing like zero-tolerance," Levinstein says. "They decided they couldn't bury it, so they put the most positive spin on it that they can."

Schneider, the rowing medalist, believes athletes are confused. Any doping policy, she says, has to be understood by competitors, devised with their input and overseen outside the IOC Medical Commission, which has its own interests to protest.

Otherwise, she says, cases like Andreea Raducan's will keep erupting.

"We need people to question things," Schneider says. "If it isn't performance-enhancing and it didn't harm her, what on earth did we strip her medal for? She's not a drug cheat. Why is she getting treated like one?"


Raducan awaits appeals decision on stripped gold

Report: Romania protests Raducan ruling by returning other medals

World record-holding hammer thrower escorted off Olympic track

Cold medicine strips all-around gymnastics champ of gold

USA Track & Field, Hunter under fire for doping cover-ups

USA Track & Field rejects White House call for naming drug violators

IOC chief accuses U.S. track of drug cover-up Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
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