Vencill was suspended two years, missed Olympics

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A swimmer who claimed a contaminated
vitamin caused him to test positive for steroids, costing him a
shot at the 2004 Olympics, has won a lawsuit against a dietary
supplement company in a case that may give hope to athletes in
similar circumstances.

An Orange County Superior Court jury ruled unanimously that a
multivitamin taken by Kicker Vencill was contaminated with steroid
precursors and was responsible for his positive test. Jurors
awarded damages of $578,635 against the manufacturer, Ultimate
Nutrition of Farmington, Conn.

The decision, which came Wednesday after a three-week trial, is
vindication for the swimmer though he has already served nearly all
of his two-year suspension from competition.

"Who would think that a multivitamin is contaminated? But it
was and we proved it," Vencill said Friday. "Now I can move along
with my life and swim with a clear conscience."

Vencill's difficulties started in January 2003, when he tested
positive for the banned substance 19-norandrosterone. He denied
wrongdoing and sent his supplements to a private lab, which found
that the multivitamin Super Complete contained the material.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency imposed a four-year suspension from
national and international competition. Vencill appealed to the
Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, which cut the
suspension to two years.

Among other things, the suspension prevented him from competing
in the 2003 Pan-American Games and cost him a shot at the 2004
Olympics. "I paid for it. I paid for it dearly," he said.

A lawyer for Ultimate Nutrition did not immediately return a
phone call seeking comment. The company also did not respond to
messages left at its corporate office.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has cautioned about supplements in
the past, and its latest guide contains a specific warning that
vitamins, along with minerals, herbs and amino aids, can cause a
positive test. "The regulations that oversee the nutritional
industry and requirements for quality control are minimal and there
is no guarantee that the product contents are as advertised," it

Attorney Howard Jacobs, who represents Vencill and two other
athletes who also allege that they tested positive because of
contaminated substances, said the jury's verdict should send a
message to the supplement industry that it needs to change the way
it manufactures or tests products.

In Vencill's case, the contamination entered either through the
vitamin's raw ingredients or from equipment used to turn the
supplement into capsule form, his lawyer said.

"Certainly, the supplement industry needs to take a look at
what it's doing," said Jacobs, of Forgey & Hurrell in Los Angeles.
"It's a bigger problem than people realize."

The suspension for Vencill, 26, ends later this month and he
intends to compete in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle at the
May 27-29 Speedo Grand Challenge in Irvine. "It will be great to
get back on the blocks and back to a sport I really love," he

He will return to competition without supplements. "You can't
be sure what you're buying. To me it's not worth it," he said.