Though U.S. Anti-Doping Agency officials are working hard to determine whether to bring charges against athletes suspected of performance-enhancing drug violations before the July 9-18 U.S. Olympic team trials in track and field, the agency might not close all of its cases before that deadline, USADA Director of Legal Affairs Travis T. Tygart said yesterday.
That means some athletes could remain under investigation through the Olympic trials and possibly the Aug. 13-29 Summer Games in Athens and be subject to retroactive disqualifications and the eventual nullification of their results pending the outcome of USADA's investigative work.
Both USADA and U.S. Olympic Committee officials have expressed a desire to expedite the process to ensure that the United States sends a drug-free team to the Summer Games, but USADA does not want to be pressured into closing cases that could eventually yield prosecutions because of an arbitrary -- albeit significant -- deadline, Tygart said.
"USADA diligently reviews all relevant information at the appropriate time and we proceed with any case that's supported by evidence," Tygart said. "With respect to cases going forward prior to Athens, that's obviously a shorter timeline . . . [but] this timeline does not change our thorough review process."
Just over three weeks ago, USADA received tens of thousands of pages of documents from the Senate Commerce Committee that had been seized in a federal raid of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), which is at the center of a federal steroids investigation that has resulted in the indictments of four men.
Since then, USADA officials have been poring over the documents and meeting with some athletes named in them, including budding sprint star Kelli White and five-time Olympic medal winner Marion Jones. White admitted using a host of banned drugs and accepted a two-year competition ban after being shown the evidence against her.
Jones has denied using illegal drugs. Her attorney, Joseph Burton, who requested the meeting with USADA, contested the evidence against her and has urged USADA to exonerate her publicly.
USADA officials have declined to comment on the specifics of any cases.
Among USADA's evidence against Jones, according to Burton's office: A $7,500 check from Jones's bank account to BALCO and a 2001 calendar containing the initials MJ that appear to document a program of drug use. The calendar is littered with various letters that investigators believe might refer to banned drugs, but it also is marked with times that belong to a top male sprinter, not a female.
Even if USADA decides against pressing charges against Jones, USADA officials are unlikely to make any public comment on her case given the organization's protocols. USADA eventually will privately inform athletes about the status of their cases, whether they are closed, subject to charges, or unfinished and remaining under investigation, Tygart said.
USADA officials have given no indication about when they will bring charges against any athletes, other than to say they are aware of the necessity of acting quickly and intend to conduct their work fairly and completely.
USADA also could bring charges against coaches or other athlete support personnel via world track federation (IAAF) rules barring any persons from inciting or assisting athletes in using drugs.
Remi Korchemny, White's coach, was among the four men connected to BALCO indicted on federal steroid distribution charges in February. And among the evidence cited in a government affidavit in support of search warrants related to the BALCO case: three torn versions of a letter addressed to the IAAF and USADA disclosing allegations of steroid distribution by a "renowned track and field coach"; and several e-mails between BALCO owner Victor Conte and an "international track and field coach" discussing performance-enhancing drug use.
In one, the coach -- whose name is redacted -- writes on June 28, 2003: "I'm sending you the latest schedule of Anti-doping list. As you can see at the Stimulant list Modafinil is on it!!! Of course after [Don] Catlin's Norbolethone detection this AAS [anabolic steroid] is also included. I guess the party is over."
The e-mail refers to a previously undetectable stimulant -- modafinil -- found in the urine of more than a half dozen U.S. athletes in the last year. It also refers to the discovery of a previously undetectable steroid -- norbolethone -- that was identified two years ago by Catlin, the head of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory in Los Angeles.
Once USADA begins its notification process, athletes or coaches will have 10 days to respond to the charges in writing, according to the organization's bylaws. The evidence and responses will be examined by USADA's Anti-Doping Review Board, which will advise USADA as to whether it should proceed with the cases.
At that point, if USADA decides to proceed, it will notify the athletes or coaches of the formal charges against them. The organization's bylaws prescribe a 40-day period for the completion of its notification and hearing process, but the rules note that the agency is free to expedite the process to accommodate team selection deadlines.
Four U.S. athletes and one from Great Britain tested positive last summer for the steroid THG, which was also undetectable before Catlin unearthed it last year. In its indictment, the Justice Department alleged that Conte, Korchemny and two others distributed THG and other drugs.