LOS ANGELES - USA Track & Field will not seek suspensions before the U.S. Olympic trials against any of the six U.S. athletes now facing doping charges, the group's chief executive said yesterday. The decision could cloud the makeup of the U.S. Olympic team until even after the opening ceremony in Athens.
USATF officials in recent months have stressed their devotion to a "zero tolerance" anti-doping policy. But the governing body's chief executive, Craig Masback, said he believes USATF does not have the right under U.S. law to provisionally suspend any of the six, four of whom are facing life bans from competition, including Tim Montgomery, the world-record holder in the 100-meter dash.
The trials begin Friday in Sacramento. If any of the six qualified for the U.S. team, Masback acknowledged in a conference call with reporters, it is unlikely that world track authorities, who traditionally have moved against any athlete with a pending doping case, would permit them to compete in the Summer Games, which begin Aug. 13.
However, USATF will not move now, Masback indicated, because to do so would probably invite legal action. "Zero tolerance is about sending the right message wherever possible," Masback said. "If we don't have the legal right to do something, I'm not sure that sends the right message."
The U.S. Olympic Committee is due to name the 2004 team by July 21. The International Olympic Committee, however, has recently indicated that in the case of "exceptional circumstances" substitutions may be considered.
The so-called technical meeting for track and field at the Games is due to be held Aug. 17, the day before the first track events of the Olympics. It is possible changes may be able to be made nearly until then.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is seeking a life ban against Montgomery and three other sprinters: Chryste Gaines, Michelle Collins and Alvin Harrison.
"For any sane person, the entire proceedings are a tremendous distraction, even if you're in an innocent frame of mind," said Brian Getz, Collins' attorney.
Evidence from the BALCO criminal investigation has emerged at the core of USADA's case against Montgomery, Gaines, Collins and Harrison. None has failed a sanctioned test for steroids.
Montgomery testified to the use of banned substances before the grand jury investigating BALCO, according to recent accounts published in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.