Cuban high jump champion Javier Sotomayor was stripped of his gold medal at the Pan American Games after testing positive for cocaine, Mario Vazquez Rana, the president of the Pan American Sports Organization, said at a news conference this afternoon.
The positive test casts doubt on whether Sotomayor, who holds the world indoor and outdoor records, will be able to compete in the world championships this month and in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), the world governing body of track and field, must decide whether to suspend Sotomayor for those events. Testing positive for cocaine, which is considered to be a stimulant, can result in a two-year suspension. The Associated Press reported that Primo Nebiolo, president of the IAAF, said from Monaco that Sotomayor would be suspended.
Sotomayor's second urine sample confirmed the positive results of the first sample, Vazquez Rana said, requiring Pan Am Games officials to strip Sotomayor of the medal he won on July 30.
"Sotomayor is not a child; he has a lot of experience," Vazquez Rana said. "He knows that anything he swallows has to be checked. This might be a mistake from his physician. I speak for the whole committee too when I say that it is hard to see someone as experienced as Sotomayor to be involved in doping."
Sotomayor has already returned to Cuba and the Associated Press reported that his wife declined to comment to reporters at the couple's home in Havana.
At a separate news conference today, Mario Granda, the chief doctor of the Cuban delegation, proclaimed Sotomayor's innocence and hinted that the urine samples were manipulated.
"We have no explanation whatsoever for the presence of this substance in the urine of Javier Sotomayor," Granda said. "We are sure that the athlete did not take this substance.
"We have said that this man is completely innocent. He is a man we trust completely. Every time he said no, he has not taken a banned substance. That is why we know that there is a manipulation in a case of Javier Sotomayor. But we do not blame anybody. Whoever is responsible will know that they are responsible."
The PASO Executive Committee does not differentiate between types of banned substances when deciding its punishment, nor does it speculate on the source of the banned substance. The presence of the banned substance alone is enough to sanction the athlete.
"To us, the infringement lies in the presence of the substance in urine," said Eduardo DeRose, chairman of the PASO medical commission. "That is all we need to know. It would not be ethical for me to judge this situation."
According to DeRose, the amount of cocaine found in Sotomayor's urine--200 nanograms, or 200 parts per million--is an amount "normally found in a person who uses that product."
Sotomayor is one of Cuba's greatest athletic champions. He is the only person to clear eight feet in the high jump. He won the gold medal in the high jump at the 1992 Olympics and at the 1987, 1991 and 1995 Pan Am Games. Sotomayor has also won four world indoor titles, and two world outdoor championships.
"Cuba comes to the Pan Am Games to compete, so that sports fans could enjoy the efforts of the Cuban delegation," Granda said. "Javier Sotomayor is one of the very few outstanding, number one athletes that attends the Pan Am Games. He is a man who cares about sport, and is ready and willing to represent his country in any state."
Canadians Kwaku Boateng and Mark Boswell, who tied for second place, will be awarded the gold medal. American Charles Clinger will receive the bronze.
Sotomayor is the third athlete to test positive for banned substances at the Pan Am Games. Canadian roller hockey goalie Steven Vezina tested positive for two stimulants and an anabolic steroid, and Juana Rosario Arrendel, a high jumper from the Dominican Republic, tested positive for an anabolic steroid. Both athletes were stripped of their gold medals.