By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 6, 2006 9:46 AM
Two weeks ago, Floyd Landis was cycling's newest star, hailed by the Tour de France as "a Leader for a New Generation." Yesterday morning, his Tour triumph continued a slide both familiar and troubling to U.S. athletic officials: one more achievement tainted by the specter of doping.
In May, American sprinter Justin Gatlin equaled the world record in the 100 meters; last month, he revealed he had tested positive for testosterone. Later that month, Barry Bonds passed Babe Ruth to move into second place on baseball's career home run list; the event was widely ignored by baseball officials wary of Bonds's involvement in a steroid investigation.
Landis celebrated for three days before learning he had tested positive for suspicious levels of testosterone. Yesterday's second test result also was positive, meaning Landis could be the first cyclist to forfeit a Tour title because of doping. He maintains his innocence, and prolonged legal wrangling is expected.
The run of bad news across athletic disciplines last week prompted U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth to call athletic doping "an epidemic in this country" and USOC CEO Jim Scherr to emphasize the importance of fielding a drug-free team in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
"We're dedicated to that proposition, and if it means we win zero medals, that's fine," Scherr said. Doping "is cheating. It's cheating the American public, it's cheating the other athletes and it's cheating the world out of the legitimacy of sport."
This summer's scandals also have included less prominent names. Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Jason Grimsley admitted to federal agents that he used human growth hormone, a performance enhancer for which baseball does not test. On Friday, American chemist Patrick Arnold was sentenced to three months in prison after pleading guilty to distributing a designer drug used by athletes, a steroid that was only detected after a coach sent a syringe of the drug to authorities.
"It's established beyond the need for attribution: There is a huge loophole in drug testing, and there has been a pandemic of doping at elite athletic levels," said Charles Yesalis, an endocrinologist and professor emeritus at Penn State University. "There's not a few bad apples in the barrel; there's only a few good apples in the barrel in many sports."
After the latest incidents, Ueberroth declared a "national call to action, in capital letters," asking for more research and educational support from the federal government and other athletic organizations.
"If we stand still, we run the very [real] risk of losing an entire generation of sports participants and of sports fans," Ueberroth said in a conference call with reporters. "The federal authorities and the elected officials have . . . chosen to participate in hearings and being on television and those kinds of things; it's now time to help join us in finding solutions."
Allegations of drug use in baseball prompted the 2005 hearings before the House Government Reform Committee, in which several baseball icons dodged congressional questioning. Former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell continues to investigate steroid use in baseball, an effort that was launched by Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig in March.
Two months later, Gatlin equaled the world 100-meter record, earning the traditional title of "World's Fastest Man." After the revelation of his positive test, Gatlin's coach, Trevor Graham, was barred from using USOC training facilities.
Against that backdrop, yesterday's developments in the Landis case felt oddly familiar. As expected, the Swiss-based International Cycling Union (UCI) announced that the second, "B" sample of Landis's urine showed an abnormally high ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, just as the first sample had nearly two weeks ago. That finding will be sent to USA Cycling, which will then refer the case to the U.S. Anti-Doping Association.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme told the Associated Press that Landis was no longer considered the race's winner, although that ruling will ultimately be made by the UCI after the case is adjudicated. The process likely will last at least several months; second-place finisher Oscar Pereiro yesterday claimed victory in cycling's premier event.
Landis, 30, was immediately fired by his Swiss-based team yesterday morning for violating its internal code of ethics. In a statement, Landis professed his innocence and promised to contest the results.
"I have never taken any banned substance, including testosterone," he said in the statement. "I was the strongest man in the Tour de France, and that is why I am the champion."
If his efforts fail, Landis would be stripped of his first Tour title and likely suspended from the sport for two years, the normal penalty for first-time offenders. If USADA upholds the positive result, Landis could appeal to the American Arbitration Association and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The initial proceedings likely will begin in several weeks; USADA refuses to comment on active cases.
Landis remained in the San Diego area, where he lives. His spokesman said the rider likely will comment further in coming days.
"He's fiery and he's looking forward to getting the next steps of this process under way and clearing his name," the spokesman, Michael Henson, said. "He's not bummed out. He's absolutely 100 percent motivated to clear his name."
But instead of being feted by the American media, Lance Armstrong's former understudy has grappled with urine tests and testosterone ratios while the Outdoor Life Network, which televised the Tour, canceled its planned recap show, calling it "no longer relevant."
"I guess the disappointment's obvious," said Chris Aronhalt, managing partner with Medalist Sports, which puts on some of America's most prestigious cycling events, including the Tour de Georgia. "Guilty or innocent, you don't want to be on the front page in this manner."
Landis's first trip to the front page was as a hero. After fading late in the race, he catapulted back into contention with a near-miraculous performance in the 17th of 20 stages, despite a debilitating hip injury.
By last Wednesday, UCI had released the positive results of Landis's "A" sample from his Stage 17 drug test, one of several tests Landis took during the Tour. The 'A' test showed a testosterone to epitestosterone ratio of 11-1; the permissible level is 4-1. A carbon-isotope ratio test, which is often used to differentiate between natural and synthetic testosterone, was performed on the "A" sample, Henson confirmed.
Henson said yesterday he had not yet seen the results of the "B" sample test and only knew that the test was positive. Pierre Bordry, who heads the French anti-doping council, told the Associated Press that the "B" test also detected synthetic testosterone.
Landis and his representatives have previously speculated that the result could have stemmed from a naturally high T/E ratio, or from a night of drinking alcohol, or from thyroid medication, or from cortisone shots for his hip injury, or from dehydration. Henson said yesterday that the rider learned of the initial positive result through the media and "was forced into a position to try to explain to the world, if not to himself, why this did happen," leading to the varied explanations.
Such denials, though, have become just as familiar as the charges. Gatlin has insisted that he never knowingly used a banned substance. So has Bonds. Former Baltimore Oriole Rafael Palmeiro famously told the House Government Reform Committee he had never used steroids, a few months before a positive test was revealed.
Now, Landis's name has been added to the list of athletes whose achievements have been sullied by doping allegations.
"I think it certainly reinforces the wake-up call in the United States," Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said in a phone interview. "I mean, for a long time there was a certain amount of national denial that Americans did this sort of thing. And now America's in the same boat as everybody else."