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IN THE NEWS – Anti-Doping Agency Seeks to Ban Four Top Runners - 2004-06-26

Broadcast: June 26, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

This week, the United States Anti-Doping Agency accused four top runners of drug violations. The athletes could face lifetime bans from competition. One of them is Tim Montgomery. He holds the record as the fastest man in the world. He ran the one-hundred-meter race in nine-point-seven-eight seconds in two-thousand-two. The other athletes are Chryste Gaines, Alvin Harrison and Michelle Collins.

The four athletes have never failed a drug test. The agency has built its case with evidence from a federal investigation of the BALCO company in California. BALCO is the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. The agency says the evidence includes e-mail messages and other documents. A United States Senate committee gave the agency thousands of pages of documents from the investigation.

Federal officials have charged BALCO founder Victor Conte and three other men with illegal trade in steroids. These drugs which can increase athletic performance are banned in most sports. But their use can be difficult to discover in drug testing.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency is a private organization. It is known as USADA [you-SAH-dah]. It was created in two-thousand for the Olympic movement in the United States.

Its rules permit athletes to continue to compete until their cases are decided. Competition is set for July ninth to choose the United States Olympic track and field team. The agency says it hopes to have the four cases settled before then. The Athens Olympics are in August.

The agency sent letters to the four runners earlier this month to tell them they were under investigation. They can appeal to a United States court or to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland.

Punishments could also include a loss of past results. Tim Montgomery could lose his world record from two-thousand-two.

His lawyers say the evidence against him is weak. They say the agency is treating him unfairly and wants to ruin him. The San Francisco Chronicle reported this week that he told an investigating grand jury last year that he used performance drugs.

Tim Montgomery is the boyfriend of Marion Jones, the runner, who has won three Olympic gold medals. Marion Jones is also under investigation. But she has not been charged. She has strongly denied using illegal substances.

Last month, Olympic runner Kelli White admitted to such use. She accepted a two-year suspension. She also lost her world championship titles in the one-hundred and two-hundred meter races.

All this comes as Americans follow the issue of performance drugs in professional sports. Some top baseball players have been named as part of the BALCO investigation. This has increased pressure to ban the use of such drugs by professional players.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.