Sprinter White may lose two golds

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SAINT-DENIS, France - Two days ago, Kelli White of the United States was being hailed as the new queen of world sprinting.

Now, White faces losing the two gold medals - for the 100 and 200 meters - she won in the track and field world championships and a possible ban from the 2004 Olympics after testing positive for a stimulant used to treat narcolepsy.

The International Association of Athletics Federations, which governs the sport worldwide, is deferring action until it completes an investigation into the facts White provided about her use of the drug and its nature.

IAAF vice president Arne Ljungqvist of Sweden, chairman of the federation's anti-doping commission, indicated strongly yesterday that it will be hard for White to avoid at least losing the medals and the $120,000 in prize money from the two races.

"We are always saddened when a positive case comes out," Ljungqvist said. "It is something to deplore, but we have to face it."

Because White would be disqualified from the entire meet if the positive finding stands, she protected her U.S. teammates by withdrawing from the 400 relay team, which finished second to France yesterday.

"Deep in my heart, I believe I'm innocent," White said. "I worked very hard for the medals I won. I will work very hard to keep them."

White, 26, of Union City, Calif., is the only athlete to have won two gold medals at this meet. Her disqualification would be the most significant doping punishment in the meet's 20-year history.

It also would be the latest in a series of recent embarrassments for USA Track and Field, criticized worldwide for its tendency to clear U.S. athletes of doping charges on technicalities.

The substance found in White's urine sample after the 100-meter final Aug. 24 is a prescription drug sold in the United States under the brand name Provigil and known generically as Modafinil.

White said her doctor, Brian Goldman of San Francisco, diagnosed her with narcolepsy and advised her to take the drug on an "as-needed basis" after she sought help for general fatigue and inability to sleep at night after falling asleep during the day. Close members of her family have been under medical care for narcolepsy, she said.

"I have never taken any substance to improve my performance," White said.

While Modafinil is not named specifically on the IAAF or World Anti-Doping Agency lists of banned performance-enhancing drugs, it falls under the rubric of "related substances."

On their doping-control forms, athletes are required to list all drugs they are taking, whether prescription or over-the-counter. Ljungqvist said White listed another drug on the form, but not Provigil.

"She should have listed it," Ljungqvist said. "She should have asked for a prior exception to use it. That of course will be a problem for her when her case is evaluated. It is an embarrassing fact for her."

White said she had taken the drug a few times over the last few months, including the morning of the 100 final.

"I did not detail it on my doping-control form because I did not take it every day," White said. "I took it so early that morning. After the competition, it's hard to remember everything you take during the day."

Yet White also said she had thoroughly researched the drug with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the IAAF, did not find it on a banned list and had no idea it contained a banned substance. She said the IAAF does not know "the nature of the substance and cannot currently identify a possible consequence, if any," she said.

White learned of the positive test after reading a report yesterday in the French sports daily L'Equipe. Ljungqvist said the IAAF was seeking further information from White's physician.

"We haven't yet found whether her explanation bears water," IAAF attorney Mark Gay said.

According to the Physicians Desk Reference Web site, Provigil is a mood-altering drug that provides an artificial lift. A French government health agency Web site cites fears the drug is being misused by healthy people "wishing to improve their performances."

Among them reportedly are combat soldiers and rally drivers trying to stay alert during daily stages that last several hours.

White was banned from competing in France the first six months of 2003 after testing positive at the 2002 Paris Grand Prix meet for a corticosteroid prohibited only by French anti-doping authorities.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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