- Mike Fish, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Trevor Graham strides into the quiet hotel lobby dressed in a bright yellow and orange striped knit shirt, denim shorts, Nike shoes and socks -- a vision of calm and control.
He carries himself like a cat without a care. Pulling up a seat at a small round table, Graham, coach of some of the world's top track athletes, sounds more like a victim than a subject of hearings in front of the latest BALCO grand jury, which reportedly is considering whether he obstructed justice and whether he made false statements to federal investigators. Back in 2003, Graham was the whistle-blower who sent the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency a syringe containing the designer steroid THG, which until then had been undetectable.
If you believe him now, he's a martyr paying the price for doing his part to clean up the sport.
"I think there's a lot of people right now that's sort of pissed off at me, and that includes USA Track and Field," Graham says. "I think USADA, the IAAF [track's international governing body]. I think the managers and some of the coaches are absolutely just plain pissed off. I think everyone felt as if I brought a disgrace to the sport by actually turning in the syringe. I think they're all pissed off. So I am at the point right now that I'm constantly fighting to prove that my athletes are clean. You just constantly got to fight, man."
It's a fight he appears to be losing.
The Jamaican-born head coach of the hugely successful Raleigh-based Sprint Capitol USA track team finds his name linked to steroids and doping like no coach before. His troubles boiled over recently when his latest wunderkind sprinter, Justin Gatlin, the 100-meter Olympic champion in 2004 and the co-world-record holder, tested positive for testosterone or other steroids.
Earlier, Graham had been linked to at least a half-dozen athletes -- the most prominent is former 100-meter world record-holder Tim Montgomery -- who have received drug suspensions. And he has been affiliated with several other suspects, including 2000 Olympic Games golden girl Marion Jones, who have floated through his camp. Graham claims the number of his athletes who have been suspended is only four, citing Montgomery, Patrick Jarrett, Jerome Young and amputee athlete Brian Fraser.
The New York Times has reported that Angel "Memo" Heredia, a one-time high school and college discus thrower from Laredo, Texas, has testified before the BALCO grand jury that he supplied steroids and performance-enhancing drugs to Graham for his athletes. Graham previously denied to federal investigators that he supplied drugs to athletes. On Tuesday, his attorney issued a five-page statement saying he had arranged a polygraph exam for Graham related to Heredia's allegations and that Graham had passed.
Graham told ESPN.com that his only contact with Heredia dated to 1998, when Graham acted as a go-between in Heredia's unsuccessful attempt to enroll at Graham's alma mater, St. Augustine's College in Raleigh.
In the middle of all this, the IAAF has threatened to sideline Graham for two years if Gatlin is found guilty. The sprinter is currently preparing to defend himself against a possible lifetime ban by the organization.
Last week, the U.S. Olympic Committee hit Graham with a permanent ban from its training centers, which is little more than window-dressing discipline in that his athletes rarely use those facilities. But, also last week, the Golden League meet in Berlin -- the last in a six-meet series of premier track and field competitions with a $1 million jackpot at stake -- barred any athletes linked to Graham from competing next month. Also, promising teenage British sprinter Harry Aikines-Aryeetey severed ties with the coach several days ago, and celebrated former Olympic champion Michael Johnson recently branded Graham as having "no credibility."
Still, Graham seems unconcerned, although he's none too happy with Johnson.
"Well, my athletes haven't done anything superhuman," he says, referring to Johnson's world-record time of 19.32 seconds in the 200 meters. "Maybe he has got some skeleton himself that he is trying to hide. So, if they get rid of me, the sport would die down -- [there] won't be that watchdog watching over our sport no more, 'cause Trevor Graham is gone."
In the world according to Graham, he hasn't done a damn thing wrong. His current difficulty is all about vindictiveness and revenge, the repercussions of rival, in-your-face sprint groups angling to take down their competition in broad daylight.
It is, he believes, somebody getting back at him by "sabotaging" Gatlin, who tested positive after he ran at the early-season, low-key Kansas Relays on April 22. Graham has accused a massage therapist of rubbing a testosterone cream on Gatlin after his race, just before the sprinter was escorted to a doping test.
Gatlin has returned to his parents' home in Pensacola, Fla., and could not be reached for comment. Gatlin's New York attorney, Cameron A. Myler, told ESPN.com that his legal team is continuing to cooperate with USADA in hopes of determining the cause of the positive test. As for Graham's troubles, Myler says: "We're certainly aware that USADA and others are investigating Trevor. What is happening with Justin's positive test is separate and apart from that."
So, who are the culprits here? Might someone be out to bring down the world's most successful sprint coach, by spreading lies or by scheming to set up one of his athletes? Or are Graham's claims of sabotage and innocence simply false fronts put up to hide his own guilt?
Graham harps on rumor campaigns against him run by rival camps in the Raleigh area and led by former assistant John Burks and George Williams, Graham's coach when he was at St. Augustine's. He mentions a soured relationship with John Smith, who coaches the West Coast-based HSI sprint group, long anchored by former 100-meter record holder Maurice Greene.
Mostly, though, Graham fingers Victor Conte as a prime suspect in his troubles, saying, "Victor is somewhere behind this thing."
Conte, who completed a four-month prison sentence in late March after he pleaded guilty to orchestrating the illegal distribution of steroids in the BALCO scandal, told ESPN.com this week that he had nothing to do with Gatlin's positive test. He refused further comment.
Graham claims he was warned by people associated with Conte that there would be an attempt to "destroy your image" after it became public that Graham was the one who had turned in the THG-laced syringe to USADA.
Graham refused to identify who issued the threat.
Graham told ESPN.com that he was given the syringe by C.J. Hunter, once a world-champion shot-putter and the former husband of Marion Jones. Graham said Hunter, who tested positive for steroids on the eve of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, offered Graham what he called the "magic potion" in the syringe as part of a pitch to officially join Sprint Capitol as its strength coach.
"He's like, 'Here's this substance right here, and it is undetectable,'" Graham says. "'No one can ever find it, blah, blah. Just use this. They can beat Marion. They can beat Tim [Montgomery].' He thought I had a beef with Marion and Tim, but it wasn't like that. He had a beef with them.
"He wanted to get back at Marion. He wanted to have one of my athletes beat Marion. To, like, build someone that can go up against her to beat her. He had some kind of stuff about [how] she's holding money and stuff like that. She owed him money."
Hunter, now retired from the sport and working as a mortgage lender in the Raleigh area, could not be reached for comment. But his attorney, Angela DeMent, denies that Hunter gave the syringe to Graham.
"That didn't happen," DeMent says. "[Hunter] categorically denies it. It did not happen. I wish I could expand on it more, but didn't happen."
Hunter reportedly told the grand jury investigating the BALCO scandal that Jones, then his wife, had used steroids leading up to the Sydney Olympics, testifying that he had injected her himself.
Graham continues to believe Jones' claim that she didn't use performance-enhancing drugs.
"Yeah, C.J. claimed a lot of things," Graham says. "I know for a fact Marion didn't do none of that stuff. I can't vouch for Tim. I cannot vouch for him because of certain things and certain evidence."
Graham says he didn't have a clue about what the "magic potion" was that he alleges Hunter passed on to him, nor did he grasp the enormity of the potential fallout from sending it to USADA. He says Hunter told him it came from Conte. A couple of years earlier, Graham claims he rejected overtures from Conte -- through Conte's ZMA track club -- to combine sprint groups. Turning in the syringe, apparently, was his way to thwart a takeover attempt.
"When you don't want to be a part of something -- I turned it in," Graham says. "Honestly, they wanted my group because my group is very huge and [they're] trying to influence [me] somehow to be a part of the whole BALCO group. Then, they would control track and field. But when they inquired, I said, 'No, we're not that type of group. We don't want to be a part of it.'"
Off in the quiet of their own little corner of the sports world, the elite sprint camps have been waging a war that escalated well beyond the customary trash talk. As in many squabbles, it centered on power and money -- endorsements, appearance fees and other revenue streams. Whichever group has the top sprinters commands most of that money, and Smith's HSI team dominated in the years after Carl Lewis and the Santa Monica Track Club faded from the scene at the top.
Then, Graham's group, led by Jones and Montgomery, changed the landscape. And finally, Conte and his upstart ZMA outfit ratcheted up the intensity when Kelli White and Dwain Chambers, both of whom subsequently were proved to have been chemically enhanced creations, rushed into the picture.
It has long been suspected within the track and field community that Graham and Smith, who at one point were friends and spoke regularly on the phone, played a part in bringing down Conte. Graham told ESPN.com that federal investigators informed him of a meeting between Conte and Smith in which those two discussed "how to get me."
"There is a lot of vicious stuff going back and forth, and [Graham] kind of set in motion all of these things with his own actions," says one prominent track and field coach who asked to remain anonymous. "It is the old saying about how people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. But it never stops people from talking about their own purity and attacking others."
Williams, who Graham says is trashing him now, suggests the ugliness has sunk to its lowest level.
"[The coaches and camps] all just care about the dollar bill," offers Williams, the 2004 men's U.S. Olympic coach and Graham's college coach. "It is just like any other game. Everybody wants to get ahead and try to make the money, and who is the best and all that. Now it looks like everybody has turned against each other. This thing looks like something out of the Al Capone days or something."
Williams remembers Graham as a good kid who worked hard at St. Augustine's and married his college sweetheart, earned a spot on the Jamaican 1,600-meter relay team and later won a silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. They traded off athletes through the years, including Michelle Collins, who was caught in the BALCO scandal. Williams says he never asked Graham to work with him at St. Augustine's because he's a "takeover type of guy and I didn't need that."
Williams says he'd do anything to clear up the mess, but Graham tells a different story, one that casts Williams as a leading antagonist. He blames Williams for spreading rumors about his group and making it difficult to find a workout track in Raleigh.
"He was saying that, 'You're going to find a syringe on your track. You're going to find certain things on your track. You don't want these people around your kids,'" Graham claims. "[I said,] 'Why would you be saying stuff like that? You're my college coach. You are someone I look up to. You are the person that gave me a track scholarship when I didn't have one. And now you're saying these things just because you used to coach Michelle Collins that got busted. And you're telling everyone that I coached Michelle Collins.' He was Michelle Collins' coach. 'Why are you so angry? What have you got to hide?'"
Williams says he's saddened and embarrassed to hear Graham talk like that. He worries how this will end. "[Graham] is just trying to find anybody he can grab on to now," he says. "He is trying to take everybody with him."
Graham says he has just finally decided to speak his mind, saying he has been too quiet for too long. Now, encouraged by Gatlin to open up, the soft-spoken coach says he's eager to take up the fight.
He says he worries about the image of his sport as a doping haven, although he suggests most athletes do things the right way. But he admits, "You got certain groups and certain athletes that know one way to get to the top. And if you fall into the doping side of it, you don't know how to get back on top. That is the only way you know."
Graham says he is mostly peeved that the current mess potentially could end the 24-year-old Gatlin's career and, presumably, even shut down Sprint Capitol. In Graham's mind, someone set up Gatlin to get at him. And he suspects that someone likely has ties to a rival camp.
"They had to plant something there that is not there to get rid of the threat to everyone else as far as doping is concerned [and] them losing and winning the titles are concerned," Graham says. "So they have to get rid of Sprint Capitol. And Sprint Capitol is the No. 1 group in the world. I am the No. 1 coach in the world. I have coached close to 100 professional athletes. And throughout all my athletes, we have won 53 world and Olympic medals -- more than any other coach had ever done. And I'm 42 years old."
But even if his calm demeanor disguises the degree, Graham is sitting on the hottest of hot seats these days.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.