By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Reigning Olympic 100-meter champion Justin Gatlin learned last night that his 20-month fight against doping charges -- and probably his track and field career -- had ended. Gatlin was informed he had received a four-year competition ban for an April 22, 2006, positive test for testosterone and its precursors, according to several people close to the case.
In a split decision among three U.S. arbitrators that included a 53-page opinion and 22-page dissent, two arbitrators said they could not dole out less than a four-year ban to Gatlin because of a previous positive test, according to a person who had reviewed the decision. The opinion had not been publicly released as of last night.
The usual ban for a first doping offense is two years; a second offense can be a lifetime ban. Gatlin, 25, tested positive for a stimulant in his attention-deficit disorder medication at his first major U.S. meet while in college at Tennessee.
Though Gatlin, who won the 100 and 200 titles at the 2005 world championships, faced as much as an eight-year ban, he had argued that the previous positive test should not be held against him. He also argued that special circumstances applied to his case, since he secretly tape-recorded calls with his former coach and assistant coach to aid a federal steroids investigation.
He further claimed he was possibly sabotaged by a vengeful massage therapist who rubbed testosterone cream onto his legs. Gatlin, who hoped to return to competition for the 2008 Summer Games, was devastated by the decision, according to people close to him.
One of the arbitrators, Chris Campbell, wrote in his dissent that Gatlin had been discriminated against under the Americans With Disabilities Act and had proven his sabotage claim only 33 percent, not the required 50.1 percent, according to the person who reviewed the opinion.
Gatlin could appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Gatlin's Chicago-based attorney, John Collins, declined to comment, saying in an e-mail he wanted to read the opinion first. Gatlin also declined to comment through a family member.
Gatlin tested positive at a small meet in Lawrence, Kan. From the start, Gatlin and his legal team said he was innocent. They argued that Gatlin would not have tried to sneak testosterone past testers at a meaningless preseason meet and then not use it again the rest of the season.
Gatlin also argued that if he were guilty of knowingly using drugs, he would have been implicated in the more than 10 telephone calls with his former coach Trevor Graham and Graham's assistant, Randall Evans, that he secretly recorded for an investigator in a federal steroids probe in summer 2006.
Later that fall, Graham was indicted on charges of lying to federal agents about his relationship with an admitted steroid dealer. That investigator, Jeff Novitzky, testified at Gatlin's July 29-Aug. 1 arbitration hearing, saying he had uncovered no evidence that Gatlin took drugs.
Doping rules require that athletes who claim they are innocent prove it. Gatlin argued at the hearing that his massage therapist may have held a grudge over his failure to give him a bonus in 2005 and could have rubbed a testosterone cream on his legs in an act of vengeance. The therapist, who testified via conference call at Gatlin's arbitration, denied the allegations but also said he did not believe Gatlin was using performance-enhancing drugs.