U.S. sprinter Kelli White, the winner of two gold medals at last year's world track and field championships, accepted a two-year ban for taking a host of performance-enhancing drugs including undetectable steroids, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced yesterday.
The case is significant not only because it will keep one of the sport's top stars out of the 2004 Olympic Games, but also because USADA for the first time used evidence seized in a federal raid of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) last fall in building its case and exacting punishment. The penalty includes the nullification of all of White's results since late 2000, when she began taking drugs.
"In doing this, I have not only cheated myself, but also my family, friends and sport," White said in a statement released by her attorney, Jerrold D. Colton of Voorhees, N.J. "I am sorry for the poor choices I have made."
White, 27, said that she expected charges to be brought against others by USADA, but she did not elaborate. USADA agreed to the two-year ban in exchange for White's cooperation in its continuing investigation, which also entitles her to apply for early reinstatement to the world track and field governing body (IAAF) in accordance with the organization's bylaws. Colton said White would apply for early reinstatement. Colton also said he expected USADA to seek four-year bans against others caught up in the BALCO scandal.
Yesterday's disclosure illuminated White's success in masking the use of sophisticated and powerful drugs for more than two years despite frequent unannounced drug-testing, raising questions about the pervasiveness of performance-enhancing drug use in track and field and other sports.
White received the minimum ban for a host of violations that had not previously been publicly known, which included taking multiple designer steroids and the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO), along with the stimulant modafinil. Last year, White tested positive for modafinil, which is considered a relatively minor drug compared with steroids and EPO. She never failed a drug test for any other performance-enhancing drug.
BALCO is at the center of a federal steroid investigation that has thus far resulted in the indictments of four men, including BALCO founder Victor Conte Jr. and White's coach, Remi Korchemny, on steroid distribution charges.
Colton said USADA confronted White last Tuesday with incriminating information from the BALCO files, which had been turned over to USADA by the Senate Commerce Committee about 10 days ago. The files consist of thousands of pages of documents obtained in the raid of the lab, including drug schedules with White's name on them, according to a source. Before the Tuesday meeting, Colton said, White was aware only of the positive tests for modafinil and had been talking with USADA only about that matter.
"When USADA received the documents [from the Senate], the conversation changed," Colton said. "USADA said they thought we might be interested in reviewing those materials and having discussions with them."
White's two-year suspension, first reported by the San Jose Mercury News, began Monday. All of her results since Dec. 15, 2000, the date she began using performance-enhancing drugs, have been nullified -- including the double gold medals she won at last year's U.S. championships and world championships in the 100 and 200 meters.
The disqualifications mean that U.S. sprinter Torri Edwards becomes the world champion in the 100 meters and the U.S. champion in the 100 and 200. Edwards finished second to White in all three races, and she won the bronze in the 200 final at the world championships.
In New York on Monday, Edwards, who toiled in White's shadow all season, said she would be bitter if it turned out that White used performance-enhancing drugs.
"I am disappointed, because she took something away from me," Edwards said. "The honor of winning that race, crossing the finish line first, throwing my hands up in the air and having my family seeing me on the podium. . . . Even if they send me a gold medal in the mail, it's not going to be the same. It's a moment I'll never get back."
White's agent, Robert Wagner, said he had been unaware White had taken anything other than modafinil.
"The modafinil is one thing," Wagner said by cell phone from Germany. Steroids "is another thing, and EPO on top of that -- this is crazy."
With Marion Jones taking time off to have a child, White emerged last year as the biggest female star in the sport and was considered a threat to Jones's dominance this season. Like White, Jones also has connections to BALCO and two Bay Area newspapers reported she received steroids from Conte. But Jones's lawyer, Joe Burton, said in a statement yesterday that Jones had not been contacted by USADA and did not expect to be contacted.
At a news conference in New York on Sunday, Jones said she had never taken performance-enhancing drugs and would sue if USADA tried to ban her from the Olympics without solid evidence.
It is unclear to what extent White plans to cooperate with USADA. She said she wanted to help in "cleaning up the sport" but declined to discuss other athletes in the statement. Colton said he and White believed she would have been subject to a four-year ban -- and no hope of reinstatement -- if she did not cooperate because of the compelling nature of the evidence in USADA's possession.
Colton also said White was motivated by a desire to tell the truth. At last year's world championships, she denied in front of dozens of reporters taking any performance-enhancing drugs and claimed she took modafinil to combat the sleep disorder narcolepsy.
"I have had a very difficult time since winning the world championships last August," White said in the statement. "I have had to continue to train while knowing I had acted improperly. With my suspension, I now have some time to evaluate my life, the choices I have made and the direction in which I would like it to go."
Said USADA CEO Terry Madden in a statement: "Ms. White has made mistakes, but I admire her courage in acknowledging these mistakes and accepting responsibility for them. It is not easy to admit you have done wrong and then stand up to do something about it."