On the surface, Kicker Vencill has a bright future. He has a degree from Western Kentucky and a wedding date with Beth Botsford, a Timonium native who won Olympic gold in swimming in 1996.
For the moment, his prospects do not include swimming. A long shot to make the Olympic team, Vencill saw that chance end when he tested positive in January 2003 for a precursor to the steroid nandrolone.
The facts that he tested positive for a relatively small amount of the banned substance and hired a private lab to test his multivitamins, which were found to be tainted, were irrelevant.
"They can say I was careless, but I cared 100 percent," said Vencill, in the midst of a two-year suspension. "Was I cheating? No. Can they make an example of me? Yes."
USA Swimming's Web site includes a warning: "The use of dietary supplements is completely at the athlete's own risk." The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is equally explicit, but Vencill argues the warnings don't go far enough.
Two years ago this month, the International Olympic Committee announced the findings of an ominous study. It tested 634 nutritional supplements and found 14.8 percent contained substances not on the label that could have led to positive drug tests. Of the 240 samples originating in the United States, that rate soared to 18.8 percent.
The NFL and its players association are implementing a supplement certification program. The swimming community doesn't have the NFL's financial resources, just its online caveat emptors and a polarized debate.
Olympic gold medalists Lindsay Benko and Lenny Krayzelburg are afraid to take vitamin C tablets. Dara Torres used dozens of supplements to turn back the clock in 2000, and her coach, Stanford's Richard Quick, said he doesn't want USA Swimming to tell "kids not to take anything." The American Swim Coaches Association doesn't take an official position, but its executive director does.
"There's no rational reason for a world-class athlete to take anything with nandrolone, an old-fashioned anabolic steroid, effective but readily detectable," John Leonard said. "Companies manufacture it one day, the next day they're turning out multivitamins in the same vat. The athlete can claim contamination, or he could have taken massive amounts months ago."
Vencill said he is suing the manufacturer of the tainted multivitamins. He can't compete at the Olympic trials in July, but USA Swimming has invited him to Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday, to give Olympic hopefuls a personal warning.