U.S. sprinter Torri Edwards, trying to avoid a ban from this summer's Olympics for a positive test for a stimulant, successfully made it through the first stage of her hearing process but still faces the most challenging part.
A three-person American arbitration panel declared Edwards, who qualified for the Athens Summer Games in the 100 and 200 meters, guilty of a doping violation late Thursday night but ruled that "exceptional circumstances" might apply that could decrease or even eliminate the mandatory two-year minimum ban.
However, her case has now moved to the world governing body of track and field (IAAF), which has been notoriously unforgiving in dealing with drug cases in recent years because of its strict liability approach, which states that athletes are responsible for anything they ingest regardless of extenuating circumstances.
"According to the rules, it is possible" for Edwards to escape a ban, IAAF Secretary General Istvan Gyulai said yesterday. "But according to the IAAF past attitude and philosophy, it is unlikely. It must be really, really, really very exceptional circumstances."
Meantime, the attorneys for Marion Jones released a letter yesterday from her physician, who stated that Jones showed no evidence of having used performance-enhancing drugs and never discussed the matter with him.
"During my tenure as her physician, unlike with many other athletes, I have never observed any subjective or objective medical information . . . that caused me to suspect Ms. Jones was using any type of illegal performance-enhancing drugs," wrote Richard T. Ferro in a letter dated July 1 that was requested by Jones's attorneys.
Ferro reported that he became her physician in 2001.
Though Jones has not been formally charged with any drug offense, she has been under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for months. On Thursday, two Bay area newspapers reported that her ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, told federal authorities she used a number of banned drugs during the 2000 Summer Games. Jones has vehemently denied ever using any performance-enhancing drugs, and her attorneys on Thursday characterized Hunter as a vindictive ex-husband who lied to exact revenge.
Yesterday the attorneys demanded an investigation of the leaks of the Hunter interviews and requested that he be subjected to a lie detector test. A spokesman in the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco said that officials were concerned about the leaks and were investigating.
"What has been going on is a character assassination of the worst kind where apparently the government and USADA are willing accomplices," Jones's attorney, Joseph Burton, said.
Jones's attorneys also said they had not attempted to contact her physician prior to 2001, saying they directed their attention to the period that USADA officials had inquired about when they met this spring.
Next week, a three-person IAAF doping review board will be convened to review the Edwards matter. IAAF President Lamine Diack, IAAF Council member Jose Maria Odriozola and an unnamed member will study the case. American Bob Hersch is on the board but has recused himself, Gyulai said.
On April 24, Edwards tested positive for the stimulant nikethamide during a meet in Martinique. She maintains that she ingested the substance unknowingly in tablets she believed were glucose pills given to her by her physical therapist. She said her physical therapist purchased the tablets at a sundry shop in Martinique and did not realize they contained anything other than sugar.
Another athlete named to the U.S. Olympic team Thursday, quarter-miler Calvin Harrison, also faces a possible drug ban. Harrison tested positive for the stimulant modafinil last year and faces a two-year ban. His case will be heard by an American appeals panel on Monday.
Under the new World Anti-Doping Code, adopted on March 1, the IAAF Doping Review Board can either overturn the decision and enact a two-year ban, or rule that exceptional circumstances did exist in Edwards's case and recommend a lesser ban.
If the IAAF determined that Edwards was not at fault, it could levy no ban. If the review board determined there was no significant negligence, she would be subject to a ban of between one and two years.
In either case, the decision would be subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport by Edwards or the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Edwards would be unable to compete in the Olympics if she received any ban three months or longer.
The timing of this matter was unfortunate for Edwards. Before March 1, the ban for a first-time stimulant offense was merely a public warning. Now, athletes who ingest stimulants are subject to the same ban as steroid users. Gyulai said he hoped the panel would take that into consideration, pointing out that U.S. sprinter Kelli White accepted a two-year ban for using a host of drugs, including steroids.
"One thing is sure," Gyulai said. "It is really awkward to get the same penalty as Kelli White."