Justin Gatlin sold himself as a new kind of Olympic athlete, the kind who didn't dope and didn't have to cheat to win.
Though he insists he never intentionally did anything wrong, he nonetheless joined Marion Jones and Ben Johnson on the list of tainted Olympic champions. He'll also find himself in the same place as many of the competitors he tried to distance himself from -- an unwilling spectator when the 2008 Games start in Beijing.
Gatlin's appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport on doping charges was rejected Friday, three weeks before the United States holds its track trials. The three-man CAS panel unanimously upheld the four-year ban given to the 26-year-old sprinter earlier this year by another arbitration panel.
"I will continue to fight for my right to participate in the great sport of track and field in a time frame shorter than four years," Gatlin said in a statement.
But the reality is his hopes for a comeback this year are all but dead, and so are his chances of defending his 100-meter Olympic title.
CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb portrayed the decision as a compromise.
"Justin Gatlin wanted to participate in the Beijing Games, the IAAF wanted to see a life ban imposed on him, but the CAS panel has unanimously decided that four years was the right sanction," Reeb said.
Gatlin had hoped to have his ban reduced to two years, which might have made him eligible for Olympic trials later this month. Instead, the ban was lengthened by two months -- ending not on May 25, 2010, but on July 25, 2010, four years after he voluntarily accepted his provisional suspension.
"Given all the circumstances of the case, we believed the four-year suspension was appropriate," said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which brought the case against Gatlin. "This is a significant penalty and a solid reminder that doping in sport will not be tolerated."
Gatlin's 2006 positive test came as a shock to many in the track world, in large part because Gatlin held himself up as a role model for clean competition. An engaging Olympic champion, he visited high schools and regional track meets and said he liked going out and talking about his sport.
"Just putting myself out there and showing that [U.S.] track and field is a big supporter of athletics and we don't mean to do any harm and taint the sport in any way," Gatlin said in 2005. "I don't mind being a figurehead or front-runner for that."
In May 2006, he added a world record to the Olympic gold medal he won in Athens, tying Jamaica's Asafa Powell for the world record of 9.77 seconds in the 100 meters. But that run came weeks after his second positive test, and has since been erased, along with all his results since April 22, 2006.
Gatlin has said he doesn't know how steroids got into his system before an April 2006 test, when he tested positive for excessive testosterone.
"We believe there was a sympathetic ear to our position that Justin has never intentionally been involved in any doping scandal," said Gatlin's attorney, Maurice Suh.
The initial arbitration panel that reduced Gatlin's possible eight-year ban to four years essentially had offered up a blueprint for how Gatlin might conduct the appeal -- eliminating his first doping offense in 2001 -- but the CAS arbitrators didn't agree.
In its briefly worded decision, to be fleshed out later, the CAS panel upheld the original panel's decision.
In his statement, Gatlin said he was pleased CAS didn't go the other direction and increase the ban. But he also said he was disappointed and keeping his legal options open.
"I have never been involved in any intentional doping scheme," Gatlin said. "And I think that CAS would not have rejected IAAF's position unless it also believed that I had not participated in any intentional doping."
Still, the remaining legal options are few, the chances slim. CAS is the last line of appeal within the sports system.
Reeb said the only legal option he knew of for Gatlin was to go before the Swiss Federal Tribunal, an appeal provided by Swiss law because CAS is based in Switzerland.
In 24 years of CAS's existence, only one athlete has successfully challenged CAS in Swiss court -- last year, when Argentinian tennis player Guillermo Canas appealed a ruling about his use of a diuretic. The court ordered CAS to revisit the appeal, but the arbitrators came to the same conclusion and Canas' 15-month doping ban was maintained.
Suh did not spell out what legal options Gatlin was weighing and said no conclusion could be reached until he saw CAS's full decision.
Reeb said he expected that decision to be issued "in a couple of weeks," making it nearly impossible for a case to be brought to court in time for Gatlin to qualify for Beijing.
Despite not getting the eight-year ban it sought, the IAAF still looked at the decision as a victory.
"This result demonstrates the IAAF's determination to remove the scourge of doping from our sport," federation president Lamine Diack said.
American runner Jeremy Wariner agreed.
"They [IAAF] set the rules. They're standing by it," the Olympic and world 400-meter champion said from the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway. "That shows they're trying to crack down on it, and be real strong and not let no druggers run."
USA Track and Field president Bill Roe said the federation "respects" the CAS decision.
"This case has been complex and nuanced, and we are glad that it has come to a final resolution," Roe said.
The decision means Gatlin must decide whether to continue his running career through the 2012 Games or possibly look into football. He's had workouts with a handful of NFL teams.
It also means Gatlin will have no immediate chance to regain his world record in the 100 meters. Since the 9.77 mark was set, Powell improved it, finishing in 9.74 seconds last September. Then last weekend, Jamaica's Usain Bolt improved on that, finishing in 9.72 in New York City.