The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency yesterday notified four U.S. athletes that it will seek lifetime bans against them for alleged drug violations uncovered in evidence from the federal investigation of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, according to attorneys and sources involved in the cases.

Tim Montgomery, Chryste Gaines, Alvin Harrison and Michelle Collins have until Monday to respond to USADA, which has indicated it will expedite the arbitration hearings in order to resolve the cases before the July 9-18 U.S. Olympic trials in Sacramento.

Montgomery, Harrison and Collins never have failed a drug test. Gaines last year tested positive for modafinil, a stimulant used to treat narcolepsy, and received a public warning.

A lifetime ban for drug violations is extremely rare. The applicable rules of the world track federation (IAAF) indicate that a lifetime ban should be used against any person involved in trading, trafficking, distributing or selling drugs. The World Anti-Doping code stipulates a lifetime ban only for a second steroid offense.

USADA also indicated that it would disqualify results retroactively from the dates the alleged violations occurred. The agency intends to strike Gaines's results since Sept. 1, 2000, Harrison's since Feb. 1, 2001, and Montgomery's since Feb. 1, 2000, thereby erasing the world record of 9.78 seconds he set in September 2001. Montgomery is the father of an infant son with fellow sprinter Marion Jones, whom USADA also is investigating but has not charged. Jones repeatedly has denied using illegal substances.

"The USADA letter does not allege that Tim Montgomery took any banned substances," said Howard Jacobs, one of Montgomery's attorneys, in a statement. "However, the conclusion by USADA's review board -- whose members were all chosen by USADA's CEO, Terry Madden, and is hardly an independent body -- to proceed with the adjudication process based on some vague assertion of Tim's alleged involvement with BALCO further underscores the basic lack of fairness in this entire process. USADA's leap to judgment on the flimsiest of so-called 'evidence' confirms our worst suspicions -- that it is resorting to McCarthy-like tactics in its efforts to ruin Tim's reputation."

On June 8, the four athletes received letters from USADA, notifying them they were being investigated. The four had 10 days to respond to the charges. The Anti-Doping Review Board, an unnamed panel of technical, legal and medical experts chosen by Madden, reviewed all the charges and the athletes' responses this past weekend and advised USADA on whether to proceed.

Barring legal maneuvering, the next step in this process is arbitration. Athletes who enter arbitration have two choices: Take the matter to the North American Court of Arbitration for Sport, which provides an appeal mechanism to the international CAS, or go directly to international CAS for a hearing in the United States with the understanding that the decision would be binding.

The CAS adheres to the rules of the governing international federation -- in this case, the IAAF. In a typical arbitration, arbitrators discuss the rules and how they will be applied after hearing arguments from both sides.

But the athletes can choose to circumvent the arbitration process by bringing suit in U.S. court, or challenge the findings of the arbitration hearing in U.S. court. Such actions could make it impossible for the U.S. Olympic Committee or USA Track and Field to suspend athletes even if USADA deems them guilty.

USOC and USATF officials acknowledge U.S. court rulings would take precedence over their internal rules. Before the 1992 Summer Games, sprinter Butch Reynolds challenged a two-year ban for a positive test for the steroid nandrolone. A Supreme Court justice agreed to hear the case and ordered the 400-meter race at the '92 Olympic trials to be conducted with Reynolds in the field. The IAAF, however, refused to allow Reynolds to compete in the Summer Games.

Collins's attorney, Brian Getz, said yesterday he would seek an arbitration hearing via the American Arbitration Association's commercial rules rather than through USADA's designated arbitration process. He earlier vowed to seek a federal injunction if his client loses in arbitration. That approach could slow the hearing process.

Edward G. Williams, an attorney for two athletes who tested positive for banned substances last year, contested the fairness of USADA's legal process in outside courts. Williams lost the first case involving middle-distance runner Regina Jacobs, but he is appealing the decision. The second case involving Calvin Harrison, Alvin Harrison's twin brother, has not been decided.