Ex-Track Coach's Trial Raises Unseemly Issues
Monday, May 19, 2008; Page E01
Long buried tales of performance-enhancing drug use among a generation of retired track and field athletes, some Olympic medal winners, some largely unknown, are expected to fill a San Francisco federal courtroom this week during the trial of Trevor Graham, the former coach of jailed track star Marion Jones.
Past U.S. Olympians who trained as much as a decade ago with Graham, who has been charged with lying to federal investigators about his relationship with an acknowledged drug dealer, will face him in the wood-paneled court room of Judge Susan Illston and admit to obtaining or using performance-enhancing drugs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to documents filed by prosecutors in recent weeks.
Graham, meantime, is expected to try to force the dealer and prosecution witness, Angel "Memo" Heredia, to disclose his own client list, which Heredia has described as "explosive" and Graham has said would embarrass the United States on the eve of the Olympics in China.
As speculation has risen about who will be outed and whether their achievements will be merely tarnished or eventually rescinded from record books, U.S. sport officials have tried to distance current U.S. athletes from those likely to emerge during the trial. They have dismissed the expected revelations as an unseemly byproduct of a dirty era in U.S. sports that they say has been, and continues to be, scrubbed clean.
"I truly believe we have turned the corner in a big way," U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said. "While it's sometimes tough to expose the underbelly and dark side of sport, I think it's absolutely necessary to clean up sport and move in the right direction. . . . We're at the point where we've got a new generation of athletes that have learned from the past."
The trial, some say, will represent one of the final remnants of a largely government-led crackdown against performance-enhancing drug use in U.S. professional and Olympic sports. It has brought shame, competition bans, anti-doping rule changes and -- for the first time in U.S. sporting history -- the real threat of criminal sanctions to athletes who abuse steroids, human growth hormone and other drugs, and coaches that distribute them.
The trial coincides with the case against former baseball slugger Barry Bonds, charged with 14 counts of making false statements under oath when he testified before a 2003 grand jury. Bonds is expected to go to trial in the next year. In addition, legendary pitcher Roger Clemens and former Baltimore Orioles star Miguel Tejada remain under investigation for possible perjury in connection with their denials of drug use in front of Congress. Several other performance-enhancing drug cases with connections to professional athletes remain open.
If there is any deterrent effect from the indictments and courtroom drama, it is difficult to judge how great it will be. Experts say performance-enhancing drug use will never be fully contained, and athletes will always seek out new ways to get an edge.
Led largely by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of California and Jeff Novitzky, a former IRS investigator, , the investigation that infiltrated the U.S. sporting drug culture began as a hunt for evidence through trash dumpsters in 2002 outside the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (Balco), a nutrition company that provided steroids and other illicit drugs to dozens of prominent athletes. The probe has led so far to the convictions of seven people with ties to the lab: two athletes, one chemist, two businessmen, one track coach and Bonds's former trainer.
One of the athletes, Jones, was forced to return all five medals she won at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. She is serving a six-month jail sentence for lying to federal investigators about her steroid use and role in a check-fraud scheme.
The recent penal sanctions, U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth said, were one reason he felt comfortable all but guaranteeing that the United States would take a drug-free Olympic team to Beijing for the Aug. 8-24 Summer Games.
"This will be a clean team," Ueberroth said a month ago in Chicago. "I think we've got an unusual group of athletes who've seen people suffer from cheating."