From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.26 :: NO.18 :: May 03 - 09, 2003

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FOCUS

This idol has feet of clay, after all

K. P. MOHANK. P. MOHAN

The Wade Exum files have brought out the ugly side of American athletics, the never-imagined side of Carl Lewis.

HE was King Carl, track and field's superman. `Male Olympian' of the past century, `Athlete of the Century'. Four Olympic gold medals in a row in long jump, nine in all. He could do nothing wrong. If ever anyone deserved the tag of the `cleanest athlete of his era,' he was the man.



Carl Lewis is reported to have tested positive three times for small amounts of stimulants during the 1988 Olympic trials. Initially, he was suspended for six months. That would have made him lose his Olympic berth. But on appeal, he was told that he was being issued a warning and allowed to compete. Neither the positive nor the reprieve was ever made public. — Pic. ALLSPORT

Or so we thought. Till the other day. Not any more.

The Wade Exum files have brought out the ugly side of American athletics, the never-imagined side of Carl Lewis. He is human after all, he too has a past to hide. Unbelievable.

Ben Johnson, his disgraceful exit from the Seoul Olympic Games still fresh in memory, the Canadian enquiry still a landmark in anti-dope investigations, is happy for the first time in several years. The Canadian has been serving a life-ban since 1993 and nothing perhaps gets his spirits soaring than the sight of his greatest rival in a spot of bother.

Yes, the Carl Lewis aura is gone.

No, Ben Johnson still can't drag Lewis alongside him into an exclusive `dopers club'. That will be unfair. But athletics has been dealt another huge body-blow just as it was dealt 15 summers ago in Seoul. More than everyone looking at American athletics with a tinge of suspicion, it is the overall cynicism the Lewis scandal has brought in its wake that is more disturbing.

From now on, every other official, every other athlete, who believe in the theory that international athletics is solely dope-oriented — and there is a whole tribe in India — will turn around and say. "I told you long ago. No one is clean. Not even those American superstars."



Ben Johnson, his disgraceful exit from the Seoul Olympic Games still fresh in memory, is happy for the first time in several years. The Canadian has been serving a life-ban since 1993 and nothing perhaps gets his spirits soaring than the sight of his greatest rival, Carl Lewis, in a spot of bother. — Pic. ALLSPORT

That is a terrible thought, a thought that will keep coming back, rather painfully masking all those wonderful memories of Carl Lewis. Of him surging through the final 10 metres on the straight at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo for that awesome world record in 1991, of that immaculate run-up on the long jump runway at the very same Tokyo Worlds, that incredulous look and the show of despair when he knew that the wind-speed had denied him another world record, of that spirited anchor to the cries of `Go Carl, go.'

Dr. Wade Exum, a former United States Olympic Committee (USOC) drug control director, released more than 30,000 pages of documents to Sports Illustrated to allege that the USOC has covered up more than 100 cases of dope positives between 1988 and 2000. Just as the story was breaking, the Orange County Register reviewed more than 10,000 USOC documents and brought out an exhaustive report, corraborating the Sports Illustrated story or even going a step further.

Those named in the reports included Carl Lewis, Jo DeLoach and Andre Philips, all from the 1988 Seoul Olympics batch, tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez, soccer star Alexi Lalas and the 1984 wrestling gold medallist Dave Schultz who was shot dead in 1996.

To be fair to Lewis, or for that matter to the others, it must be stated that there were no steroid cases. Lewis is reported to have tested positive for small amounts of stimulants during the 1988 Olympic trials. Three times he turned in positive tests, for pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamine, all stimulants and all found in over-the-counter cold medications.

Initially, he was suspended for six months. That would have made him lose his Olympic berth. But on appeal, he was told that he was being issued a warning and allowed to compete.



Ben Johnson signals victory after whipping the 100m field in the Seoul Olympics. Carl Lewis and Linford Christie (first and second from right) finished second and third. Two days later, Johnson tested positive for steroid stanozolol and left the Korean capital in shame. — Pic. ALLSPORT

Neither the positive nor the reprieve was ever made public.

The rest is history. In what was the biggest and most publicised showdown in Olympic history, Ben Johnson beat Lewis 9.79 to 9.92. Johnson crossing the line, his left index finger signalling victory, is etched in a whole generation's memory. Two days later, Johnson tested positive for steroid stanozolol and left the Korean capital in shame. Lewis was later upgraded to the gold status and still later given the world record. He might have missed all that along with the silver in the 200m, plus the second of his four long jump golds in the Olympics had he been barred from the team for the positive at the trials.

Come to think of it, that 1988 final also had Linford Christie, who finished third but got promoted to silver, and Dennis Mitchell, whose final placing was fourth. Add Johnson and Lewis to that list and you have four men out of eight who at one time or the other, either before or after that race, had a dope-mark against their names. Christie, in fact, had a stimulant violation pardoned then and there in Seoul before being punished for a steroid offence in his post-retirement phase.

According to the Orange County Register report, Lewis and DeLoach, who would go on to win the 200m at the Seoul Games, did not list anything related to the stimulants. Andre Phillips, who beat the great Edwin Moses in the 400m hurdles final in Seoul, did mention that he had taken a cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine. The report said that Lewis, DeLoach and Floyd Heard, all members of the Santa Monica Track Club, tested positive for the same three stimulants. Heard did not make the team.

The USOC reportedly had an `intent' rule during those days, thus giving a loophole by which someone as big as Lewis could be reprieved. The present IAAF rules provide for disqualification from the event apart from a public warning for a stimulant violation in athletics.

"Carl did nothing wrong. There was never intent. He was never told, you violated the rules," Lewis's lawyer, Martin D. Singer, was quoted as saying.

"Ben knew all along that Carl was positive, now all the world is knowing. It was a cover-up by the officials," Morris Chrobotek, Johnson's lawyer, told the Sydney Morning Herald. Johnson was contemplating legal action against the USOC officials.

This might just be Johnson's way of getting back into the limelight, his way of getting even with his arch-rival. No one will buy that sort of argument. But then no one will believe Lewis either, of what his intentions were when he reportedly took some herbal preparation.

If the Romanian gymnast, Andreea Raducan, could be stripped of her gold medal at the Sydney Olympics for testing positive for pseudoephedrine despite it being proved that the team doctor had given her a cold medication, then why such a rule could not have been applied in the American context? That is the question that has come up now.

Lewis has been in the forefront of anti-dope campaigns. He was the role model even as the world despised Ben Johnson, the man who todate is regarded as the trail-blazer in doping, though there were several others ahead of him.

"You can test all you want, but if you are covering it up, it doesn't matter," Lewis said three years ago about the growing menace of doping and cover-ups in the world of sports. Now, people are accusing him of a cover-up.

The credibility of the US anti-doping system is at stake now. Not just because of the Exum files. In the year 2000, the USATF, the athletics federation, was accused of trying to cover up at least 13 cases including that of a medal winner at the Sydney Olympics. The case went up to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Lausanne, but the USATF won the argument about not disclosing names.

If there has been a growing feeling among anti-dope campaigners that the US has been selective in its application of rules, while at the same time accusing the rest of the world, that feeling should now be reaching a point of utter frustration.

"It's what many people suspected about the US Olympic Committee, that it was being covered up. There were lots of rumours around," said the World Anti Doping Agency chief, Dick Pound.

Pound was critical of the argument about inadvertent use of the drugs. "At the time this happened, Carl Lewis already had four gold medals from the Olympics. You know perfectly well you have got to be very careful with what you take. The offence is the presence of the substance in your body,'' the Canadian IOC member and the man leading the international anti-doping campaign, said.

"The more we know the better it is," Pound was quoted by Associated Press. "The more the world knows and the US public knows what the USOC was doing, the more likely they are to fix the problem."

Former athletes and officials also came out against the USOC cover-up. "For so many years I lived it. I knew this was going on, but there's absolutely nothing you can do as an athlete. You have to believe governing bodies are doing what they are supposed to do. And it is obvious they did not,'' said former American sprint queen and 1984 Olympic champion, Evelyn Ashford.

Whichever way the USOC fixes its problems, whatever be the excuses it gives now, the damage has been done. Once you lose credibility it is impossible to repair the damage.

For nearly two decades we thought Carl Lewis was the answer to those who believed that international athletics, if not Olympic sport as a whole, survived only because of dope. We used to point at King Carl and say, "he can't be a cheat."

We are as dumb as King Carl himself now.

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