Gatlin Assisted Investigators in Balco Probe

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

Olympic 100-meter champion Justin Gatlin secretly recorded more than 10 telephone calls with his coach, Trevor Graham, to assist federal investigators in the Balco steroid probe and the calls produced no evidence that Gatlin took or received any banned substances, the lead Balco investigator told arbitrators during a closed-door hearing this week, according to three people in attendance at the hearing.

The testimony from the investigator, Jeff Novitzky, came via teleconference in an Atlanta courtroom as Gatlin mounted his defense of a positive test for steroids from April 22, 2006. The three-day arbitration came to an end with closing arguments last night. A decision is not expected for several weeks.

Novitzky, who testified for more than two hours Monday, described Gatlin as the only track and field athlete to provide undercover assistance willingly during the five-year Balco investigation of steroid use in sports, which has resulted in five criminal convictions and more than a dozen athlete bans, according to Gatlin's attorney, John P. Collins; his father, Willie Gatlin; and another source who did not wish to be identified.

Graham was indicted last fall on charges of lying to federal investigators.

Novitzky did not respond to a request for comment. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency general counsel Travis Tygart also declined to comment.

Gatlin's uncommon cooperation and Novitzky's unprecedented testimony -- no federal agent has ever testified on behalf of a U.S. athlete facing doping charges -- could be critical to Gatlin as he attempts to fend off a possible eight-year ban for last year's positive test for testosterone or its precursors.

Gatlin, who hopes to be able to compete at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, faces an eight-year ban instead of the standard two-year penalty for a steroid offense because this is his second positive test. Collins argued this week that the first violation, a 2001 positive test for a stimulant in the attention-deficit disorder medication Gatlin had been taking since childhood, should be thrown out. The arbitration panel that reviewed the case at the time called the violation "inadvertent" and said Gatlin, at that time a student at the University of Tennessee, neither cheated nor intended to cheat.

Gatlin, who matched the 100 world record of 9.77 seconds in May 2006, has said he did not knowingly take any banned drugs or allow them to be administered to him, but the international anti-doping movement has historically held athletes accountable for any substances in their bodies and rejected pleas for lenience regardless of individual circumstances.

This case, however, is unusual. Rather than arguing that his positive test for testosterone or its precursors was flawed or that he accidentally ingested a banned substance -- common refrains from accused athletes -- Gatlin accepted the test results but claimed he was neither guilty nor negligent and that the circumstances of his case deserved special consideration.

Should the three-member arbitration panel reviewing the case agree, the case would be referred to the anti-doping review board of the world track and field governing body (IAAF). If the IAAF agreed that special circumstances apply, the matter would be handed back to the arbitration panel and it would be free to recommend a reduced sanction.

Gatlin has said the cooperation with federal investigators and evidence that the positive test was a one-time occurrence -- the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency probed five of his urine samples after the positive test with the rarely used CIR, which distinguishes natural from artificial testosterone, and all were negative -- substantiate his claims of innocence.

Gatlin also contends that he might have been sabotaged by a massage therapist who could have rubbed a steroid-based cream on his legs during what appeared to be routine treatment sessions. Gatlin told The Post he could find no other explanation for the test results, which his medical experts testified were consistent with the application of a cream.

Gatlin speculated that the massage therapist, Chris Whetstine, might have held a grudge against him over his failure to reward him with a bonus in 2005.

Whetstine appeared as a witness via teleconference Tuesday and denied rubbing a steroid-based cream on Gatlin, according to two people who were present in the courtroom during his testimony. He also said he did not believe Gatlin had knowingly taken drugs, the people said.

A North Carolina-based massage therapist whom Gatlin visited when Whetstine was not available also testified, saying Gatlin's body showed no signs of steroid use. The massage therapist, Terri Blankenship, said she formerly worked as a police officer and state investigator with an emphasis on drug abuse, sales and steroids, so she was familiar with the common signs of steroid abuse.

"He never changed; he never really bulked up," Blankenship said in a phone interview. "There was never anything with Justin that made me even question he was using anything."


© 2007 The Washington Post Company