Swimming Notebook

Hall Raises The Specter Of Doping

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 30, 2008

OMAHA, June 29 -- Gary Hall Jr. realizes that new technology in swimsuit design will receive much of the credit for the slew of world records that have fallen -- and are likely to fall -- during this Olympic year. But the brutally frank Hall, who has spent many of his 33 years rankling those who run his sport, said Sunday he suspects the use of performance-enhancing drugs in swimming is far more rampant than most athletes and coaches admit.

"Doping has existed in the sport in the past, that's true," Hall said. "Do I think it's getting worse? Yeah, I do."

Hall, the two-time defending gold medal winner in the 50-meter freestyle, is at the U.S. Olympic trials trying to make his fourth Olympic team. He said he understands that as sports such as track, baseball and weightlifting have been dragged down by drug scandals, swimming has remained largely unscathed. Though he stressed he has no direct evidence, he clearly believes that cleanliness runs only so deep.

"Unfortunately, we rely on an inadequate doping system -- doping agencies -- for the proof," Hall said. "We live in a society where you're innocent until proven guilty -- the key word being 'proven.' We don't have any way of proving people are cheating."

Hall pointed out that many athletes who have been discredited have been swept up in other scandals, such as that involving the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (Balco), rather than caught by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Athletes at the trials will be randomly tested for banned substances, and officials from USA Swimming said they believe their athletes are clean because the sport demands they be so.

"There is, within the culture of swimming, this notion that: You know what? If you're cheating, we want to catch you and we want to throw you out of the sport," said Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming. "In other sports, there's a culture of excuse-making or protection."

Hall countered that, "I have no idea where the sport is, but to think that it doesn't exist would be foolish," particularly with more money pouring into the sport.

Even with such strong words, Hall said he would reserve full judgment until after the eight-day event here, in which he will only swim the 50 freestyle, and sees performances with Speedo's new technologically improved suit. But he also brought up the women's teams from 1970s East Germany, long suspected of doping, who broke records that were then attributed to new swimsuits.

"Can suit technology distract from another issue?" Hall said. "I think it's pretty convenient for those who are indulging in the other issue."


© 2008 The Washington Post Company