Trevor Graham sat impassively in a folding chair next to the warmup track late last Saturday afternoon at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Sacramento. A few feet away the sprint coach's prized prot�g�s, Shawn Crawford and Justin Gatlin, sat marinating in deep tubs of ice water, cooling themselves after running two qualifying rounds of the 200 meters on a hard track under an unforgiving sun. They should have made room for their 39-year-old coach, who had been feeling more heat than either of them.
The Olympic trials (page 78) were emblematic of the best and worst in track and field, where the stopwatch never lies but surely doesn't tell the whole truth. There were brilliant turns by veterans and by fresh faces. But the trials never broke loose from the drug scandals that are painfully cleansing track and field, if they do not first destroy it. The BALCO investigation hung in the air as six athletes facing suspension competed for Olympic berths. (None of them made the team.) On three consecutive days published reports named a different member of L.A.'s HSI sprint club as having had positive drug tests. One of them, trials 100-meter runner-up and reigning world champ Torri Edwards, admitted to having inadvertently taken a banned stimulant and faced a hearing on Monday. Rumors of other positives surfaced daily, and every performance was analyzed in pharmaceutical terms.
Nobody lives closer to this intersection of performance and suspicion than the preternaturally mellow Graham. He came to prominence in 1997 after he bumped into Marion Jones and her now ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, at the North Carolina State track. A native of Jamaica who won a silver medal in the 4 x 400-meter relay for his country at the 1988 Olympics, Graham had been driving around Raleigh with track coaching manuals in his car, dreaming of finding great runners to mentor. Oh, my God, Marion Jones, Graham once recalled thinking as he watched her run.
"Mind if I fix something?" Graham asked Hunter that morning. He suggested some small fixes to Jones's form; they seemed to help, and he was hired on the spot.
For the next five years Graham coached the best all-around women's track athlete on the planet He circled the globe in first class, scored a shoe contract of his own and built a stable of sprinters. In 2002, however, Jones and her new boyfriend, sprinter Tim Montgomery, suddenly left Graham.
He came to Sacramento having been placed by published reports at the vortex of the BALCO investigation. The San Jose Mercury News wrote in July that Graham-spurred by a feud with BALCO founder Victor Conte over money Conte claimed he was owed by Montgomery—was the mystery whistle-blower who turned in a syringe containing the steroid THG to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in June 2003, triggering the scandal. Since '99 five Graham-coached athletes have tested positive for banned substances. In addition, four of the BALCO six in Sacramento had been coached by Graham. When approached by reporters, he said, "No BALCO questions." He has denied giving banned substances to his athletes.
On the first weekend of the trials, the Graham-coached LaTasha Colander won the 100 meters, and in the men's 100 Gatlin and Crawford went two-three behind Maurice Greene. On Sunday in the 200 final Crawford won in 19.99 seconds, with Gatlin close behind. The crowd roared but couldn't drown out the whisperers, who see speed as suspicious. "When you run fast, that's what they do," said Graham—a coach in a simple sport (fastest person wins) that has never been more complicated.