Gatlin gets eight-year ban, will help with investigation

Updated: August 23, 2006, 5:05 PM ET
Associated Press

Justin Gatlin chose to cooperate with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a move that could help the sprinter's reputation but still imperils his eligibility for the Beijing Olympics.

USADA handed down an eight-year ban to Gatlin on Tuesday, the result of an agreement in which Gatlin accepts his positive tests for testosterone or other steroids but retains his right to appeal to an arbitration panel.

"We want to know how [the drugs] got there and see if it leads to other people and other convictions. For us, that's the key issue," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "We would accept eight years or even less in that case -- but four years would be the minimum."

Even if Gatlin's suspension were reduced to two years -- a possibility if arbitrators agree with his arguments -- it wouldn't be in time for the 2008 Olympic Trials.

"We're shooting for something way less than two years," said Gatlin's attorney, Cameron Myler. "The goal is to have him back on the track as soon as possible."

World Anti-Doping Agency code calls for second-time offenders to receive a lifetime ban. The eight-year penalty was handed down because Gatlin's first positive drug test, five years ago, was deemed an honest mistake and because he promised to cooperate with other investigations being conducted by doping authorities.

"We want him to tell the truth about what really happened," Davies said. "If Gatlin just says 'I don't know what happened,' that's not good enough. We want him to cooperate fully with USADA and be very truthful with what happened."

The eight-year penalty was a small compromise by USADA, considering Gatlin is 24 and would be too old to compete when the ban is over. The Olympic and world champion will also lose the world record he tied in May when he ran the 100 meters in 9.77 seconds

And when he appeals for a lesser penalty -- some time in the next six months -- he cannot argue the test was faulty.

Bryn Lennon/Getty ImagesGatlin is only 24 years old, but his career might be finished.

"To his credit, it's recognition that the science is reliable," USADA general counsel Travis Tygart told The Associated Press. "Instead of wasting a bunch of resources attempting to create smoke where there's not any, he's acknowledging the accuracy of the positive test, and in exchange for his agreement to cooperate, we've recognized the nature of his first offense."

The first offense occurred while Gatlin was in college. He stopped taking medicine to treat attention-deficit disorder a few days before competition, but it didn't clear his system. He received a two-year ban for that test, which was reduced by a year because of the "exceptional circumstances" of the offense.

"The nature of Gatlin's first offense for use of his medication puts this violation in a unique category," USADA chief executive officer Terry Madden said.

Gatlin has said he didn't know how steroids got into his system this time.

One of his attorneys, John Collins, said Gatlin would spell out his case at the arbitration hearing. He wouldn't discuss strategy.

"The last time this happened, he went to the panel and explained he neither cheated nor intended to cheat," said Collins, who helped get that first ban reduced. "This time, we'll explain the full stack of circumstances and everything around it and, hopefully, we'll get a similar result."

He said the circumstances "indicate he deserves something far less than eight years, if anything."

Collins wouldn't confirm the argument would be based on claims by Gatlin's coach, Trevor Graham, who has contended Gatlin tested positive after a vengeful massage therapist used testosterone cream on the runner without his knowledge. Graham has been involved with at least a half-dozen athletes who've received drug suspensions and has been barred from U.S. Olympic Committee training sites.

The leader of USA Track and Field called Gatlin's case "a setback for our sport."

"While we are glad Justin has taken responsibility for his positive test and will cooperate in USADA's anti-doping efforts, we are sorely disappointed in him," USATF chief executive officer Craig Masback said in a statement.

USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth, meanwhile, said the penalty can be a positive.

"Since becoming an elite-level athlete, Justin has talked about the importance of eradicating doping in sport," Ueberroth said. "By acknowledging his doping positive and agreeing to work with USADA, Justin now has an opportunity to put those words into action. He can play a meaningful role in solving a problem that is reaching a crisis level in American sport."

USADA looks at this as a significant compromise.

The policing organization has a history of offering leniency to those who help in its fight against doping. Though the agency doesn't name names, Gatlin could possibly help USADA by providing information on Graham, who has denied any direct involvement with performance-enhancing drugs.

"He accepted liability," Tygart said. "He agreed not to raise technical arguments or frivolous defenses. He has an opportunity to go to a panel of arbitrators and argue exceptional circumstances."

In this case, the exceptional circumstances could be that he was sabotaged, or has no idea how the steroids entered his system.

And if that defense doesn't work, Gatlin's willingness to cooperate could also be viewed in a positive light.

Graham's attorney, Joe Zeszotarski, released a statement supporting Gatlin.

"As Trevor has stated publicly, he completely supports Justin Gatlin and Justin's cooperation with USADA and efforts to get reinstated," Zeszotarski said. "Trevor knows he has done nothing wrong in his relationship with Justin or any of his athletes, and only wants the truth to come out."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press