-- Top U.S. bobsled driver Todd Hays ripped the International Olympic Committee and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency during a news conference today, accusing the agencies of sending mixed messages about food supplements and punishing athletes who consume such products rather than those who knowingly take banned drugs.
Hays, a U.S. medal hopeful in the two- and four-man bobsled events, last week lost one of his top pushers for the 2002 Games over a positive steroid test at the January Olympic trials. The pusher, Pavle Jovanovic, claimed he had not knowingly ingested a banned drug and speculated that it resulted from taking a contaminated food supplement.
Today, Hays said he considered Jovanovic innocent and accused USADA of using positive test results to "hold [an athlete] up like a trophy and show [the athlete] off to the world to validate its existence."
His voice quaking with emotion, Hays said USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency have warned athletes about the dangers of contaminated food supplements, but have not disclosed information about which products tend to produce positive results.
"The problem is -- and it's going to continue -- the athletes are not educated on this because the IOC and USADA have failed to educate us on this," Hays said.
WADA Chairman Dick Pound and USADA President Terry Madden have repeatedly discouraged the use of supplements publicly and said athletes are responsible for anything they ingest. During a recent news conference, Pound said that any athlete "with an IQ above room temperature" should know that taking food supplements could produce a positive test.
During today's news conference, Hays displayed several items -- two protein bars and an energy beverage -- available at the Olympic Village to illustrate the point that some products designed to give a performance boost are given freely to athletes.
"These things are all free of charge in every corner of the Village -- free PowerBars, free protein bars, free Powerade," Hays said. "I find that to be quite ironic [considering] these people will stand on this soapbox and preach about the integrity of the athlete."
Said Madden: "We have never had a positive test out of PowerBars or Powerade. I look forward to the day when supplements are regulated and we can tell athletes what supplements are safe to take."
Since 1994, when legislation was passed in the United States that essentially freed the supplement industry from oversight and regulation, hundreds of new over-the-counter products promising performance enhancement have come onto the market. But there is no mechanism to ensure that they are properly labeled. Dozens of athletes have tested positive for steroids -- most often nandrolone -- and blamed the result on contaminated supplements.
"I find it frustrating that USADA is beginning to prosecute all the supplement users when they should be finding ways to find the real cheaters," Hays said.
"There's nothing really safe. . . . We've had to stop taking everything from daily vitamins to aspirin to anything because we are so scared that somehow the aspirin company put in something that's been mislabeled, and my Olympic dream is over."
Hays said he had been distracted by the appeals process that followed Jovanovic's positive test, which was announced two weeks ago by USADA, but that his major concern was the fate of his friend. With Jovanovic out of the Games, Hays will compete with Garrett Hines, Bill Schuffenhauer and Randy Jones
"I know in my heart 100 percent Pavle is guilty of nothing," he said. "The distraction is mainly my concern for Pavle and his well-being and the adversity he's going to have to face for the rest of his life. He's not a big-time sprinter or figure skater. He's a bobsled athlete making $750 a month -- or, he did make $750 a month. Now, he's back home forced to watch this on TV."