Ruling bars Edwards from Athens for good

Updated: August 17, 2004, 10:19 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- U.S. sprinter Torri Edwards was knocked out of the Olympics for good Tuesday when an arbitration panel upheld her two-year drug suspension, saying she should have known tablets provided by her doctor contained a banned substance.

Edwards had been considered a medal contender in the 100 and 200 meters at the Athens Games. She inherited the world championship in the 100 when Kelli White forfeited that crown because of drug use.

At the U.S. Olympic trials, Edwards finished second in the 100 in 11.02 seconds, and third in the 200 in 22.39. Edwards' spot in the 100 will go to Gail Devers, who finished fourth at the trials. Her spot in the 200 will go to LaShaunte'a Moore.

Edwards tested positive for the stimulant nikethamide at a meet in Martinique on April 24, but blamed the result on two glucose tablets she took because she wasn't feeling well. She said her team's physical therapist bought the glucose at a store on the Caribbean island, and that she was unaware it contained any banned substances.

The international Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected her appeal Tuesday, one day after Edwards spoke on her own behalf during a 5½-hour hearing.

The ruling is final. Edwards will remain suspended until July 17, 2006.

The CAS panel said Edwards took two Coramine Glucose tablets provided by Christopher Vincent, a licensed chiropractor who worked for her track club, HSI. The product had a leaflet in French making clear it contained nikethamide and carrying a warning to athletes that it can result in a positive doping test, the panel said.

"There is an obligation and a duty for all athletes and more particularly to top-level athletes to ensure that no prohibited substance enters his/her body, tissues or fluids," the CAS said in its 20-page ruling. "The panel found that Torri Edwards was negligent in failing to enquire whether the product contained a prohibited substance."

However, the panel added, Edwards "conducted herself with honesty, integrity and character ... she has not sought to gain any improper advantage or to 'cheat' in any way."

The panel said a two-year ban "may appear harsh," considering the same penalty applies for use of steroids and the endurance-boosting hormone EPO. But it said sports federations should be supported in their recent adoption of the first World Anti-Doping Code.

If the International Association of Athletics Federations had enacted the code two months later, Edwards would have been let off with a public warning under the old rules.

Edwards' attorney, Emmanuel Hudson, did not immediately return phone calls. A statement on the HSI web site said she was "devastated" by the decision.

"We respect the fairness of the CAS system and will work with USA Track & Field to make the necessary adjustments to our roster," U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said.

Edwards' suspension was announced last Wednesday by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

A U.S. arbitration panel that first heard the case said there might have been "exceptional circumstances." But an IAAF doping review board rejected that argument, relying on the "strict liability" standard that declares athletes responsible for any banned substances found in their bodies.

The IAAF said it was "very pleased" that the CAS panel had accepted its ruling.

"It's very important that athletes realize their obligation regarding doping," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said. "The credibility of the sport depends on it."

The therapist who gave the tablets to Edwards, Christopher Vincent, was dismissed from the HSI club as a result of the case.

The ruling finally ends the drama and speculation that had surrounded the U.S. 100-meter squad since the trials, where defending Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones finished a shocking fifth and newcomer Lauryn Williams outleaned Devers at the tape for the third spot.

Five days later, Edwards acknowledged her positive drug test, then launched the first in a series of appeals. With Edwards' spot in jeopardy, speculation centered on whether Devers might withdraw from the 100 to concentrate on the 100-meter hurdles. Devers is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 100, but had never won a hurdles medal, even though it's her best event.

Devers' withdrawal would have moved Jones into the 100. But Devers, competing in her fifth Olympics, squelched that idea early last week when she said she would run the 100.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press