The meeting to warn U.S. track and field athletes about sophisticated drug testing at the Pan American Games was called by the U.S. Olympic Committee even before the first weightlifting penalties were made public. At that Monday meeting, 12 athletes decided to return home.
"I called the meeting after I had some indication that sanctions were coming," said Evie Dennis, the U.S. chief of mission, during an interview today at the U.S. operations office in the Pan American village.
"I understand some of the athletes, when they returned home, were bitter because they had not been informed earlier. My retort is that they were informed. I advised them through the coaches and managers while they were still in Miami, but apparently there was a feeling that it was just scare tactics.
"Dr. (Roy) Bergman and I advised them of the situation again on Monday and left it up to them whether to compete or not."
The USOC has no rules governing testing of athletes. Individual federations that govern Olympic sports may choose to conduct drug testing, but most don't because of the cost involved.
F. Don Miller, head of the U.S. delegation here, said the USOC "will put up the money for the tests and take the leadership role."
High jumper Leo Williams of Navy, one of the few field event athletes still competing here, said he attended the meeting because he wanted to know about the drug tests.
"They told us that the testing here would not be like the one conducted by the IAAF (International Amateur Athletics Federation) at Helsinki, but that this was an IOC test and much more detailed," Williams said.
"They said that anyone who had taken any injections in the last six months or oral stuff in the last three months would be caught. They said, 'It's not for us to tell you to stay or leave, but either way we'll be behind you.'
"It was not a pressure situation and I honor the decision the guys made. Whatever the decision, it's better than being banned 18 months and missing the Olympics.
"I think the media is going overboard on this and beating a dead horse. The test is here. Let it rest. I'm glad they've finally got a system that tells once and for all who's on it.
"People I know are on it, in my country and others; now they know they have to cut it out. We're all competing on an equal basis now."
Besides calling the meeting to warn the athletes, the USOC also apparently provided them with an escort. William Simon, president of the USOC, accompanied the athletes on Tuesday's flight to New York.
When it was suggested that Simon left here abruptly because of the athletes' defection, Frank Aires of the USOC said, "I've heard that question 10 times today and it's just not true. Simon was scheduled to leave here Tuesday and I have the printout to prove it."
When Aires displayed the printout, however, the "Simon" scheduled to depart Tuesday was John Siman of the gold-medal water polo team. Another paper disclosed that William Simon's hotel room had been reserved until Aug. 29.
Dennis, an employe of the Denver public school system, made it clear that while the USOC apparently helped the athletes out of a tight spot here, there would be no further coddling of athletes who violate the rules. Earlier in the day, the USOC said that, for the first time, athletes will face random drug screening before representing the United States in international events, including the Olympics.
"All U.S. athletes will face a very extensive drug testing program," Miller said. "We will begin on a random basis and it will require the cooperation of a lot of people in the federations. It is something we have to do so that we can send a representative team to the Olympics," he said.
"These athletes are certified to us by the national governing bodies (in this case The Athletics Congress) and we had no controls other than to warn them of the situation," Dennis said. "However, we do not want to be put in this position and we intend to work out procedures so it does not recur.
"The athletes who came here had no legal obligation to compete, but they did have a moral obligation."
The USOC said it had made a mistake the day before in reporting that decathlon hopeful Gary Bastien of Auburn, Ala., had gone home with 11 Pan American Games teammates before their competition started. Bastien was still in Caracas, but not participating because of injury, officials said.