Kelli White, one of the United States' top track and field stars, has become the first athlete to take a fall in the San Francisco Bay-area steroid lab investigation, losing her eligibility yesterday to compete in the Summer Olympics.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency suspended White for two years. The suspension will keep White out of the 2004 Olympics, but it could have been longer had she not agreed to cooperate with the agency's efforts to police the sport.
In August, White, who was raised in the Oakland, Calif., area, became the first American woman to sweep the 100- and 200-meter sprints at a world championship meet.
She has been coached recently by Remi Korchemny, one of four men charged with conspiring to distribute banned performance-enhancing substances to athletes.
All four are linked to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, a nutrition company. The men have entered not-guilty pleas, but the BALCO case has damaged the reputations of, among others, home run record-holder Barry Bonds and top female sprinter Marion Jones, who have been linked to the company.
White is the first athlete to be suspended based on information the anti-doping agency received from the Senate Commerce Committee, which had subpoenaed evidence from investigations of BALCO.
Her suspension was announced two weeks after officials from the agency and the U.S. Olympic Committee went to Capitol Hill to ask Arizona Sen. John McCain, the committee's chairman, to help send a drug-free team to the Athens Games.
Within days, evidence that included testimony from, among others, Jones and White was handed over to the anti-doping agency. The USADA claims the power to use what it calls "non-analytical positives" - evidence not from drug testing - to suspend athletes who use banned substances.
A statement said the doping methods White had used as early as 2000 included undetectable steroids and erythropoietin, or EPO, a hormone responsible for the regulation of red blood cell production.
White was contrite in a statement released by her lawyer, which alluded to threats made against her because her testimony could be used to implicate other athletes.
"I have already gotten negative reaction to my decision by some of the people I once trusted the most," White said in the statement.
"In doing this, I have not only cheated myself, but also my family, friends and sport. The choice to cooperate is completely my own. I felt it was important to step up, accept responsibility and assist in cleaning up my sport.
"I anticipate other athletes will be charged. ... I don't want to start pointing fingers at other athletes, but I do feel this is a problem in sport everywhere."
In contrast, Jones was defiant Sunday at a U.S. Olympic Committee media gathering in New York, where she threatened legal action if anti-doping forces used "non-analytical positives" to keep her out of the 2004 Olympics.
Last month, the San Jose Mercury News noted an Internal Revenue Service investigation when it reported that White, Jones, world record-holder Tim Montgomery and nine other U.S. track and field athletes had used a designer steroid, THG, from BALCO.
With Jones sitting out last year to have a baby, White, 27, emerged as the world's top female sprinter. Her world championship times of 10.85 seconds in the 100 meters and 22.05 in the 200 were the fastest of the year and earned $120,000 in prize money, but her Paris performances immediately came under suspicion. White tested positive at the world championships for modafinil, a stimulant she said she needed to treat narcolepsy.
White's appeal of her world championship disqualification was to be heard this week. Track and field's international governing body told the Associated Press that it looks favorably upon White's cooperation with the anti-doping movement, but suspensions are rarely lifted in less than a year. Hers began May 17.
White is not the first 2003 USA Track & Field champion to be stripped of that national honor. The anti-doping agency previously announced two-year suspensions for shot-putter Kevin Toth and hammer thrower Melissa Price for THG use.