New Orleans -- He is a pariah, guarded by police, training alone, pronouncing his innocence.
Butch Reynolds, an athlete condemned for alleged steroid use, will not go quietly.
Today, after racing 22 months from court to court, he is expected to line up in a starting block, competing in the twice-delayed 400-meter men's preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Reynolds' chances of advancing through four rounds and participating in the Summer Games of Barcelona, Spain, remain improbable. If his competitors don't beat him, then an international sports federation will attempt to bring him down. But to underestimate Reynolds now would be to repeat a mistake made by his adversaries in boardrooms, courtrooms and locker rooms.
To understand Reynolds, you could look through legal briefs or dissect a historic Supreme Court order that enabled him to enter the trials.
But to understand the man, you must watch him run. The 400 is track's most demanding race. You must be willing to run beyond physical exhaustion, to feel cramps in the belly and the legs, to sprint until you are literally sick with pain. With an 8 1/2 -foot stride, with his arms churning like pistons, Reynolds, 6 feet 3 and 180 pounds, turns high-speed torture into a ballet.
At 28, after racing only four times in nearly two years, Reynolds still may be among the world's best 400-meter men. He is the world-record holder, establishing the mark of 43.29 seconds at a meet in Zurich, Switzerland. He was the 1988 Olympic silver medalist in the 400, and a member of the U.S. gold-medal winning 4 x 400 team at the Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.
But his prime years might be over, and he is near financial ruin.
Reynolds was banned two years by the International Amateur Athletic Federation after allegedly testing positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone at a Grand Prix meet in Monte Carlo on Aug. 12, 1990. He steadfastly has maintained his innocence, claiming to be the victim of a faulty testing procedure.
Moreover, he has declared: "I do not use steroids."
Those who know him say he has been profoundly changed by the struggle for reinstatement. He has lost millions in potential endorsements. His legal bills have climbed to $500,000.
"He's broke," said Reynolds' agent, Brad Hunt.
Once disarmingly outgoing, Reynolds is now serious, nearly morose. The man who once went into intimate details to describe his stomach ailments at the 1987 world championships now constantly refers to himself in the third person and speaks with a passion, often near tears. He said other 400-meter runners "would have committed suicide or gone through drug treatment" had they gone through a similar ordeal.
"The battle has changed Butch," said LeRoy Walker, treasurer of the U.S. Olympic Committee. "I think he has become a different kind of person. And it's different how he is perceived by his fellow athletes, too."
Raised in Akron, Ohio, Reynolds had his first contact with fame May 3, 1987. On a wind-swept day, the then-Ohio State junior was transformed from the 17th-fastest quarter-miler in the world to No. 3 all-time, clocking 44.10 at the Jesse Owens meet. Suddenly, he was labeled as the most likely to eclipse running's oldest record, Lee Evans' 43.86 in the 400, recorded just minutes after Bob Beamon's epic long jump of 29-2 1/2 at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
On the walls of his apartment, he tacked up a sign with his given name, "Harry Reynolds, World Record, 43.81."
Reynolds beat even that boast in his 1988 race in Zurich, leading the world's great runners by 10 meters, roaring through the tape in 43.29. Three years later, after watching a grainy tape of the race, he told the Chicago Tribune: "That took a lot of guts. I thought it was the worst I would ever feel in my life."
But, for Reynolds, the worst was yet to come.
Reynolds was snared after finishing third and being selected at random to test at an August 1990 meet in Monte Carlo. He learned of the positive result the next month, the day before running in a meet in New Delhi, India, when his agent, Hunt, walked in his hotel room and said, "We have a problem."
The problem was steroids, used to aid training.
Since then, Reynolds and his lawyers have worked on an elaborate defense, based on picking apart the testing procedure. Now, only Reynolds knows if he took drugs.
"There has never been an issue of Butch Reynolds' guilt or innocence," he said. "I've proven my innocence."
Although his opponents rarely discuss whether they believe Reynolds, Danny Everett, the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, said: "I never suspected Butch of using drugs. But I don't feel there was a conspiracy against him either."
There were irregularities in Reynolds' test. His urine samples spent two nights in two different refrigerators en route from Monte Carlo to the testing lab of Jean-Pierre LaFarge in Paris. His lawyers also maintain that the two samples tested did not come from the same person. And, they say, he was a victim of mistaken identity.
In drug testing, samples are marked with letters and numbers, not names. Reynolds' sample was labeled H5, and an East German competitor's was H6. Reynolds' lawyers claim that the official who tested the urine twice circled H6 -- the East German -- as the only positive sample. But the lab reported that it was the H5 sample -- Reynolds' -- that was positive, and that the H6 was incorrectly circled. A week later, Reynolds passed a drug test at a meet in Cologne, Germany.
Reynolds and his lawyers have fought to overturn the ban on two tracks -- through the appeals process set up by track's governing federations and the U.S. court system.
After five postponements, Reynolds' case was heard last month by a three-member IAAF appeals panel. He lost.
But, in the United States, Reynolds triumphed. Armed with a temporary restraining order from a U.S. Circuit Court judge in Columbus, Ohio, he raced in two meets. The same judge granted him entry into the trials.
But after The Athletics Congress, track's governing body in the United States, took the case to the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals, Reynolds was expelled from the trials because his presence would "contaminate" his competitors, who faced four-year IAAF suspensions for racing against him. The "contamination" rule was once used as a lever to bar South African athletes from competing internationally. The rule was then extended to athletes banned for drug use.
Reynolds trumped his opponents only hours before Saturday's scheduled start of the 400 race, when he secured a Supreme Court order from Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote that the prestige of making an Olympic team for one man outweighed the harm that might fall on others who ran against Reynolds. Later Saturday, the full court backed Reynolds.
That's when chaos hit the trials. Reynolds' competitors threatened to boycott the race rather than risk bans. To those who rarely follow track and field, the stand was startling. But, in the 1990s, the amateurs have been replaced by professionals whose livelihoods depend on contract endorsements from shoe companies and financial guarantees from meet promoters.
"I'm not jeopardizing my track career," said Chip Jenkins, formerly of Villanova. "I sacrificed a $50,000-a-year law job to run. I'm not going to get banned."
But the risk of banishment is expected to be lifted today, when the 23-member IAAF board temporarily waives its contamination rule to enable the race to take place without threatening the other athletes.
"What you had was our legal system colliding with the law of an international sports federation," said Julia Emmons, a member of TAC's executive board.
In the U.S. courts, Reynolds won. But he has been notified that he faces the likelihood of an additional four-year IAAF ban when his original sentence expires three days after the Barcelona Games end.
Even if Reynolds finishes in the top three in the men's 400, the IAAF still can block his path to the Olympics, because it controls credentials to the track and field events. No one within the American track and field hierarchy expects Reynolds to run in Barcelona.
But Reynolds' agent, Hunt, said the fight to run in the Olympics has just begun.
"Everyone thought Butch would run out of gas, run out of fight, and run out of money," he said. "We could go to the World Court [in the Hague]. We'll see what the U.S. Olympic Committee can do. . . . But we recognize that, in New Orleans, this might be the last time you ever see Butch Reynolds run."
Still, Reynolds expressed hope to race through the summer, to extend his career another four years to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
"Whatever happens on that track," he said, "the issue remains that every American athlete has a right in America."