As camera flashes went off all around her last Saturday night, Kelli White stepped down from the podium in the crowded interview room of Paris's Stade de France and placed her hands over her head to shield herself from the unwanted trail of photographers. The attention had felt much better two days earlier, when White recounted her resounding triumph in the 200 meters at the World Track and Field Championships. That victory, and her earlier win in the 100, had confirmed her as the world's fastest woman—at least in the absence of Marion Jones, who just had a baby—and certified her as the new star of U.S. track.
Now she was left to explain how her drug test after the 100-meter final had come back positive for a stimulant called modafinil. She said the drug was in a prescription medication she had recently begun taking for narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that has long afflicted her family. Before the meet she had listed several medications she was taking on a declaration form, but she failed to note the modafinil because, she said, it is not on any banned list. "I have never taken any substance to enhance my performance," she insisted.
Nevertheless, Arne Ljungqvist, head of the medical commissions of both the IOC and track's governing body, the IAAF, said on Saturday that modafinil is one of the unspecified "related substances" that are banned by the two organizations. "An exemption was neither declared nor sought [by White]," he added. As SI went to press, the sprinter's punishment, if any, had not been determined. If found guilty, she will at least lose her medals from the worlds. However, because modafinil is new to drug testers, they haven't classified it as either a heavy stimulant (such as an amphetamine, which carries a two-year suspension) or a light stimulant (e.g., ephedrine, which would likely entail a warning). The drug may be classified as early as next week.
The revelation about White further soiled a U.S. program that has recently suffered one disgrace after another, including the stripping of the Pan American Games' 100-meter gold medal from Mickey Grimes last month after a positive test for ephedrine; Jon Drummond's over-the-top tantrum after being DQ'd for a false start in a 100 heat in Paris; and the Aug. 27 report in the Los Angeles Times that Jerome Young, the winner of the 400 at the worlds, had produced a positive sample test for the steroid nandrolone in 1999 yet had been allowed to compete in the 2000 Olympics. ( USA Track and Field had cleared Young but never released his name; Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, last week called for the revocation of the U.S.'s 4x400 relay gold medals from the Sydney Games because Young ran in a preliminary round.)
Though the worlds were in many respects a disaster for the U.S., the team rallied on Sunday, winning three relays to finish atop the medals chart with 20, 10 of them gold. Among the Americans who fared best in Paris were Allen Johnson, who took his fourth world title in the 110 hurdles (with a time of 13.12 seconds), and fellow winners John Capel in the 200 meters (20.30 seconds), Dwight Phillips in the long jump (27' 3�") and Tom Pappas in the decathlon.
The 6'5" Pappas may be the feel-good story that U.S. track needs before next year's Athens Olympics. Soft-spoken and hardworking, inspired by a father who had polio, Pappas, 26, of Knoxville, Tenn., is suddenly the favorite in one of the Games' marquee events. Even better, his greatgrandfather emigrated to the U.S. from Athens, so Pappas might have all of Greece on his side. "The Olympics could be a home meet for me," he says. It remains to be seen whether White will be there to cheer him on.