Gatlin: 'I Have Been Robbed'
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Reigning Olympic 100-meter champion Justin Gatlin called himself a victim of a malfunctioning anti-doping system and said he would look into all options of appealing the four-year ban he received Monday from a three-person U.S. arbitration panel for his April 2006 positive test for testosterone or its precursors.
"I'm a fighter and I've been a fighter from the very beginning and I'm going to continue to fight," Gatlin said by phone yesterday from his home in Pensacola, Fla. "I know in my heart I haven't done anything wrong.
"I have been robbed. I have been cheated of an opportunity to finish my career."
In a 53-page majority opinion authored by Edward T. Colbert, two arbitrators said they could not recommend anything less than a four-year ban because of Gatlin's previous positive test. While a freshman at Tennessee in 2001, he tested positive for a stimulant in the attention-deficit disorder medication he had been taking since he was 9. A first offense for steroid use carries a two-year ban; a second offense can bring a lifetime ban.
In his 22-page dissent, Christopher Campbell argued that to give Gatlin anything more than a two-year ban represented "blatant discrimination in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act" and said the federal government "should take a serious look at this practice."
The distinction is significant. Gatlin hoped to try to compete at this summer's Olympics in Beijing. The panel ruled that Gatlin is ineligible until May 24, 2010, and nullified all of his results since the positive test, including his then-world record in the 100 meters (9.77 seconds) in Doha, Qatar, on May 12, 2006. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency attorney Bill Bock called the ruling "fair" and said there were no plans to appeal.
Both the opinion and dissent focused primarily on the 2001 case with considerably less discussion given to the second. Gatlin, 25, had argued that the first case should not count, but he also maintained that he did not knowingly commit a doping offense in the second case, speculating that he was sabotaged by a vengeful massage therapist who rubbed a testosterone cream on his legs.
He complained that his cooperation in a federal steroids investigation -- he secretly tape-recorded more than 10 telephone calls with his former coach and assistant coach in the summer of 2006 -- and the extraordinary scrutiny his urine samples received from drug-testers backed up his claims of innocence but were largely ignored by the panel.
The majority opinion said Gatlin "failed to sustain his burden of proof" and that the panel could not "eliminate the possibility that Mr. Gatlin intentionally took testosterone."
"None of the stuff I have done to try to show my innocence, that I had nothing to do with the situation, helped at all," he said. "I feel like I got stuck in a bank that was getting robbed, and then they accused me of robbing the bank.
"The whole point of being sabotaged, you're not going to be able to prove 100 percent that you've been sabotaged. . . . They've taken away everything I've worked hard for."
In the dissent, Campbell said "Gatlin's accusation of sabotage was far from frivolous" but added that Gatlin hadn't met the 50.1 percent standard of proof, reaching only 33.3 percent.
In the majority opinion, Colbert wrote that Gatlin's case was "particularly nettlesome" given the 2001 violation. The opinion actually urged Gatlin to try to take the first case to the world governing body of track and field (IAAF) or the original panel that reviewed it to see if either would declare that Gatlin had "no fault" in the violation. (The original panel had stated only that Gatlin did not intend to cheat and did not succeed in cheating.)
Should Gatlin obtain such a declaration, Colbert wrote, the panel could consider reducing the ban further.
The majority opinion noted that Gatlin's cooperation went "far beyond the contemplated assistance to anti-doping sports authorities" but said that because the cooperation did not reveal any person involved in any doping violations, he could not receive any ban reduction.
Gatlin said he shouldn't be penalized for his lack of involvement in doping activities.
"There's too much politics and not enough common sense," Gatlin said. "They're still going to go and say, 'None of the stuff you've done for us at the drop of a dime, none of it matters'? . . . It's just crazy."