SI Vault
Edited by Richard Demak
June 22, 1992
A True Test?
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June 22, 1992


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A True Test?

It has been almost four years since Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids at the Seoul Olympics. How far has drug testing in track and field come since then? As the Barcelona Olympics approach, two potential medalists—Katrin Krabbe of Germany, the women's world champion at 100 and 200 meters, and Butch Reynolds of the U.S., the world-record holder in the 400—are challenging drug-related suspensions on grounds that the testing procedures were flawed.

Krabbe was suspended by the German track and field federation on Feb. 15. Although her urine sample was drug free, tests showed that her sample and those from two other sprinters had come from the same person. Upon appeal, the federation said there was no conclusive evidence that the three samples had been manipulated, and ruled that the runners could compete in Germany. The International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) has yet to decide whether they can compete internationally.

The IAAF suspended Reynolds after he tested positive for a steroid in August 1990. Reynolds appealed, claiming that his results had been confused with another athlete's, but on May 11 an IAAF appeals panel upheld his suspension. Then on May 28 a U.S. district court judge in Columbus, Ohio, granted him a temporary restraining order, allowing him to compete until June 18 (SI, June 8). Reynolds has since qualified for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials beginning on Friday in New Orleans.

TAC, the governing body of track and field in the U.S., finds itself in a quandary. Reynolds was planning to seek another restraining order this Thursday that would allow him to run in the trials. The IAAF has threatened to ban any athlete who competes against Reynolds, and two weeks ago the organization's president, Primo Nebiolo, said, "We will never accept a decision of any court in the world against our rules." If Reynolds gets the restraining order and shows up at the trials, what will TAC do? And if he competes, what will the IAAF do?

Such questions of jurisdiction have rarely been asked in track and field. The testing programs of TAC and the IAAF involve such complicated procedures that samples are inevitably mishandled, allowing athletes to appeal and regain the right to compete. Athletes rarely sue, but their threats to do so are sometimes enough to get TAC or the IAAF to back down. In this case TAC was willing to allow Reynolds to compete, but, for once, the IAAF stuck to its guns.

Over the last few years track and field has tried to put more teeth into its drug policies. Last August the IAAF increased the suspension for using banned substances from two to four years. And TAC now conducts out-of-competition testing. But these and other revisions have done nothing to eliminate the flaws that obviously still exist in the testing procedure itself. Moreover, there is still no test for several performance-enhancing drugs, and a new mail-order product can apparently mask almost any banned substance.

So, despite the progress it has made, track and field is now perceived as a drug-ridden sport. If the sport hopes to eradicate that perception, it must find a way to make testing procedures more reliable. Bad drug testing is worse than none at all.

Pray Ball
Allen Hye, a German professor at Wright State in Dayton, has come up with his all-religious baseball team: C, Steve Christmas; 1B, Luke Easter; 2B, Johnny Temple; SS, Jose Pagan; 3B, Tim Teufel ( Teufel means "devil" in German); OF, Jesus Alou, Angel Bravo and Bob Christian; P, Preacher Roe; reliever, Jim Gott ( Gott means "god" in German); manager, Harry Lord.

Dogleg Down

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