NEW ORLEANS -- If the talk is of performance-enhancing drugs then the sport must be the shot put.
Yesterday, two men who served drug-related suspensions and another man who was an outspoken campaigner against steroids, wound up taking half-a-victory lap together at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Strange? No. Just business as usual in a weight event filled with controversy.
Mike Stulce, whose two-year suspension for high testosterone levels ended in the spring, won at 70 feet, 5 1/4 inches. Jim Doehring, who beat a two-year rap for testosterone because of testing irregularities, finished second at 69-2. And Ron Backes, who makes a point of stating he's untainted by drugs, was third at 68-1 3/4 .
The oddest man out, of course, was world record-holder Randy Barnes, whose bid to have his two-year drug suspension overturned by West Virginia courts failed.
"I think we have a serious problem," Backes said. "We're role models, whether we like it or not. We need to look at that and be true leaders in our country. You hear reports of 14-year-olds using steroids to look good. That's crazy."
Stulce and Doehring say they were victims of drug-testing procedures gone haywire, not users of drugs to pump up and boost training.
"The burden of proof should not be on the athlete," said Doehring, the 1990 national champion who was suspended in 1991, but reinstated in the spring. "We have to protect the athletes."
Backes agrees. Anti-drug and pro-Olympic, he said yesterday fulfilled a near-lifelong dream.
"I wanted to win, but the dream was to make the team," he said. "I just wanted to thank God for putting this dream in my heart."
In yesterday's only other final, Tanya Hughes, a graduate of Maryland's Great Mills High School who attends the University of Arizona, won the women's high jump at 6-3 1/2 . Amber Welty finished second and Sue Rembao third to emerge from a five-way tie at 6-2 1/4 .
Meanwhile, a 22-member executive committee of The Athletics Congress voted unanimously to submit Butch Reynolds' name as part of the U.S. Olympic track team. Reynolds, serving a two-year suspension for steroids, qualified for the U.S. 4x400-meter Olympic relay roster by finishing fifth in Friday's 400 final.
The move was a mere formality. Few expect Reynolds to beat the International Amateur Athletic Federation ban in Barcelona, Spain.
"I don't see how he can get credentialed," said TAC president Frank Greenberg. "I don't see how he can get into the athletes village. I don't see how he can get a competitor's number."
Back on the track, Jack Pierce, formerly of Morgan State, was the second fastest qualifier for today's men's 110-meter hurdle final. Pierce won his heat in 13.42 seconds.
"I got sloppy, hit hurdles and had to regroup," Pierce said. "Then, the panic is instilled. I told myself to relax. But the bigger the meet, the bigger the inspiration. I like big meets."
Also advancing was Jerry Roney, Jr., a Woodlawn High School graduate who attends George Mason University. Maryland's Renaldo Nehemiah reached the semifinals, but pulled out with an injury.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee's bid to reach the women's 100 hurdle final ended when she finished fifth in her semifinal heat in 13.03.
Gail Devers (12.67) and Lynda Tolbert (12.78) both ran faster than the existing meet record to reach today's final.
Carl Lewis nearly walked his way out of today's 200-meter men's final. He slowed at the finish with a time of 20.50, and narrowly avoided being passed by fourth-place finisher James Trapp (20.52) and fifth-place finisher James Jett (20.58).
Mike Marsh won the heat in 20.26, nipping reigning world champion Michael Johnson (20.29).
Fastest of all, though, was Leroy Burrell, who won his race in 20.12.
"The way things went," Burrell said, "I'm falling in love with the 200."