NEW YORK -- Butch Reynolds is a man running to clear his name.
He is the 400-meter world record-holder who has been labeled a cheater, an Olympic gold and silver medalist forced to wear track and field's scarlet letter: S for Steroids.
Instead of quietly accepting a two-year banishment from the sport after testing positive for steroids in August 1990, Reynolds decided to fight back. He proclaimed his innocence. He hired lawyers. He discovered a loophole and drove his case right into the USA/Mobil Championships.
"I feel like I've been through hell and back," Reynolds said.
Last night at Downing Stadium, Reynolds made a brief return to the track. Given what amounted to a weekend furlough by an arbitrator, Reynolds raced at the national championships. He wore his 1988 Olympic uniform but could not produce his record-breaking speed, finishing seventh in 47.40 in a 400-meter heat and failing to gain a World Championships berth.
"Now I start training, baby," Reynolds said. "This is it, baby. But the competitor in me and the athlete I am hates to do what I just did."
Reynolds' presence at the national championships not only challenged the credibility of track's drug-testing program, but also threatened America's participation at the World Championships in Tokyo in August. But Reynolds said he is not interested in politics -- he only wants justice.
"My life has been put on hold," Reynolds said. "I've been accused of something I didn't do. I have morals and principles. My nephews look at me and ask, 'Uncle Butch, why are they saying these things about you? I'm glad I don't have kids old enough to understand. Cheating is not in my vocabulary."
At 27, Reynolds should be in the prime of his career. He surpassed Lee Evans' 20-year-old record in the 400 meters with a run of 43.29 seconds in Zurich in August 1988. He won the silver medal in the 400 and the gold in the 1,600-meter relay at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
Reynolds' nightmare began Aug. 12 at a meet in Monte Carlo when he tested positive for nandrolone, an oil-based steroid. He received a two-year competitive ban imposed by the International Amateur Athletics Federation.
"I wanted them to take out my liver, do whatever they wanted to do, to prove I'm innocent," Reynolds said.
Reynolds chose to try to reverse the suspension by side-stepping the legal thicket of the alphabet-soup groups that run track and field. He went to U.S. District Court in Ohio and unsuccessfully challenged the right of The Athletics Congress and the IAAF to take away his livelihood. He then bypassed a hearing with TAC, track's organizing body in the United States, and went straight to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Under rules governing the USOC, an athlete can seek arbitration to gain entrance into a national championship event. After hearing evidence from drug expert David Black that a false positive test was obtained, Richard Gombert of the American Arbitration Association reinstated Reynolds.
Reynolds said Gombert "found it clear and convincing that the 'A' [urine] sample and 'B' sample did not come from the same person. This is not a mere technicality.
"Many athletes do not know their rights, do not know the rules," Reynolds said. "For the last eight months, I've been fighting TAC, fighting for due process. Now, I want TAC to fight with me."
But TAC officials are not poised to join the battle. They face possible penalties from the IAAF, the body that governs World Championship and Olympic competitions. The IAAF warned TAC it may lose its sanction because of Reynolds' national championship appearance. Attorneys for the organizing bodies met yesterday to resolve the case. In the unlikely event the IAAF lifted TAC's sanction, American athletes would be prevented in appearing any meet outside the United States.
The IAAF could impose the "contamination rule," which, according to TAC spokesman Pete Cava, "basically says that any athlete who knowingly competes in a meet against an ineligible athlete disqualifies himself from further competition."
"Just about every international event could be affected," Cava said. "It's premature to start thinking in those terms, although it is a concern. We could have no team at the world championships [at Tokyo in August]. That possibility is there, but remote."
Said Reynolds: "I wouldn't sit up here and try to hurt other athletes. That's not my intention. My intention is to clear my name and run."
Reynolds said winning was not an immediate goal. He has trained only sporadically in the past few months, lifting weights and running once on the track with his brother, Jeff, who advanced to the semifinals yesterday with a time of 46.06. He said the suspension has cost him $1 million and his reputation.
"This has been the toughest time of my life."