Gold medalist must outrun drug charge

Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2003

SAINT-DENIS, France Kelli White provided some of the rare highlights for an underachieving U.S. team at the World Championships until she flunked a drug test, putting her two sprint gold medals at risk and depriving a favored American relay team of its anchor.

Track's world governing body is investigating a sample from White, the only American woman to win an event at these World Championships and the only U.S. woman to win both the 100 and 200 meters at a world meet. Now, her sprint crowns are in jeopardy. And, after White's withdrawal, the U.S. 400-meter relay team lost to France on Saturday night. It's just the latest controversy for the U.S. team at the World Championships.

American sprinter Jon Drummond withdrew from the meet after a tantrum in the men's 100 quarterfinals. Drummond threw a fit after being disqualified for a false start.

Then the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency called for the U.S. 1,600-meter relay team from the Sydney Olympics to return its medals after a report that Jerome Young, a surprise winner here in the 400 meters, failed a drug test in 1999 but was quietly cleared by U.S. officials and allowed to run in the 2000 Games.

There also have been plenty of disappointments on the track including medal shutouts in events Americans usually rule, such as the men's 100 and the women's pole vault. White said her positive drug test stemmed from prescription medicine for a sleep disorder, and she denied ever taking drugs to enhance her performance.

''Because I know that I did nothing wrong and sought no advantage over my competitors, I am confident that things will work out in the end,'' she said. ''The mere fact of this allegation is personally harmful and hurtful. I have never taken any substance to enhance my performance.''

White's positive test for the stimulant modafinil came after her win Monday in the 100. Arne Ljungqvist, vice president of the International Association of Athletics Federations and head of that organization's anti-doping commission, said White's 200 medal is in jeopardy, too.

Modafinil stimulates the central nervous system and is used to fight fatigue and sleepiness. Ljungqvist said at a news conference that the IAAF is aware of other cases in which modafinil has been used by athletes ''for the purpose of performance enhancement.''

White responded at her own news conference Saturday night, saying that she was prescribed modafinil for narcolepsy earlier this year, and that she and close members of her family have been diagnosed with the disorder. She said she went to her doctor after feeling tired all the time and having trouble with her memory. White, who was somber but composed during the news conference, is confident she'll be able to keep her medals.

''Honestly, deep in my heart, I do believe so,'' she said. ''I believe I'm innocent; I know I'm innocent. I've worked very hard for the medals I earned this week, and I'm going to work very hard to keep them.''

It's not the first time White has been involved in a disputed drug test in France.

In July 2002, after running in a meet at Saint-Denis, White's sample turned up traces of a corticoid an anti-inflammatory steroid. She was suspended for six months by France's anti-doping agency because she lacked a medical certificate, but the IAAF cleared her.

Ljungqvist said he did not think White's doping case would be resolved during the World Championships.

''It is very clear that it is a stimulant, but whether it is a soft stimulant or a strong stimulant is not clear,'' IAAF general secretary Istvan Gyulai told The Associated Press. ''If it ends as a doping case at the moment all indications are toward that direction then she will be deprived of the gold medal.''

Gyulai and Ljungqvist said if it is a ''soft'' stimulant, White would be disqualified from the 100 and stripped of her medal. If it is a stronger stimulant similar to an amphetamine, she also would face a two-year international ban.

Athletes are required to declare the use of any drug for medical purposes and seek an exemption for its use, but White neither declared her use of modafinil nor sought such an exemption. Since the drug is not on the IAAF's list of banned substances, White said she saw no need to make sure a declaration.

''The reason that I did not declare this on my doping control list is because I do not take it every day. It is on an as-needed basis,'' she said. ''Because I took it so early in the day, I never thought to list it. After a competition, it's kind of hard to remember everything you take during the day.''

Gyulai said modafinil is not specifically listed as a banned drug, but is ''covered by a clause on related compounds.''

''Of course, it is an embarrassing factor for her that she would neither declare nor get prior exemption,'' Ljungqvist said. ''She should have done it. Even more, she should have asked for a prior exemption to use it, that is of course a problem for her when her case will later be evaluated.''

White would have anchored the relay. Instead it was Torri Edwards, who got the baton with a lead but was passed in the final few meters by France's Christine Arron. As the French sprinters danced to the cheers of a joyous crowd, the dispirited Americans shook their heads.

''I felt a little bit fatigued, but I did the best I could,'' said Edwards, who won silver in the 100 and bronze in the 200 and now could move up to gold and silver if White is disqualified.

Arron said she was glad White withdrew from the race.

''It's good that White wasn't there,'' Arron said. ''It would have shown a lack of respect for us if she had run.''

Also Saturday, Allen Johnson won his fourth world title in the 110-meter hurdles, edging U.S. teammate Terrence Trammell by eight-hundredths of a second. Liu Xiang of China took the bronze.

Other winners were Mirela Manjani of Greece in the women's javelin, Jaouad Gharib of Morocco in the men's marathon, Eunice Barber won France in the women's long jump and 18-year-old Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia in the women's 5,000 meters.

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