A panel of The Athletics Congress, United States track and field's governing body, has upheld the suspension of world-record holding shot putter Randy Barnes, but did criticize the drug-testing procedures used on Barnes and even wondered if Barnes might have been the victim of sabotage.

Barnes, 24, of Charleston, W.Va., was suspended by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, the sport's world governing body, after testing positive for the banned substance methyltestosterone at a meet in Malmo, Sweden, Aug. 7.

The two-year suspension prohibits Barnes, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, from competing in the world championships in Tokyo this summer and the Summer Olympics in Barcelona next year.

"After just having broken the world record, my career was just getting started," Barnes said yesterday in the Washington law office of his attorney, John M. Dowd.

Barnes, the most prominent U.S. athlete to be suspended internationally for steroid use, has not exhausted all his appeals. He plans to next go before the TAC Drug Appeals Board, Dowd said. If he wins there, he will go to IAAF arbitration. If he loses, Dowd said, he will take the case to U.S. District Court.

"There's a very serious due process argument here," Dowd said.

Barnes denied, once again, he ever used steroids, saying he has been tested 30 times since 1985, including 12 days before and five days after the meet in Sweden, and all those tests came up negative. Barnes has argued that the urine samples that tested positive in Sweden were not his. Dowd said "at least five or six links in the chain of custody of the urine samples are missing," calling into question the validity of the test.

The three-member TAC panel -- Clifford Wiley of Kansas City, a former 400-meter runner; Penn Relays director Timothy Baker of Ardmore, Pa., and New York attorney Jill Pilgrim -- heard seven hours of testimony last month and basically supported Barnes's story. Among other irregularities, according to TAC testimony, Barnes's urine samples were stored in a refrigerator in the home of the testing official one night, and control numbers may have been written on sealed packets containing samples some time after Barnes was tested.

"Under United States standards, it is inconceivable that a sample to be used as evidence against an accused person would have gone through the process that Mr. Barnes's samples went through and still constitute reliable evidence," the panel said.

"Were the burdens {of proof} to be reversed, TAC could not establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that the samples tested were in fact the same given by Mr. Barnes."

However, the panel said it had no choice but to adhere to the IAAF rules which govern drug testing in the sport. It concluded that because Barnes "cannot prove that tampering occurred, he must be found guilty" of doping violations.

It added that because Barnes "has presented no clear and convincing evidence that his samples were, in fact, tampered with, we have no choice but to determine that he committed a doping offense in contravention of existing TAC and IAAF rules."

Dowd said that the possibility that Barnes was the victim of sabotage "has crossed our mind."

In its opinion, the panel wrote: "It is not at all inconceivable that someone would go to extreme lengths {bribery or subterfuge} to eliminate the world-record holder in the shot put from the 1992 Olympics."

Two other U.S. athletes also have been embroiled in similar controversy. Butch Reynolds, the world-record holder in the 400 meters, tested positive for the steroid nandrolone Aug. 12 in Monte Carlo and has been suspended for two years. Reynolds's hearing has been postponed indefinitely pending a lawsuit he has filed for damages and an injunction against the suspension.

Henry Marsh, a four-time Olympian and the U.S. record-holder in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, said yesterday his two-year suspension for allegedly failing to make himself available for a drug test has been revoked by the American Arbitration Association.