As the broadcast of
the men's Olympic skeleton competition ended in Cesana Pariol last Friday
night, Zach Lund, the best American in that event, sat motionless before the TV
in the living room of his parents' Holladay, Utah, home. His sadness was
palpable. It would have been easier for him to watch, he said later, had his
U.S. teammates raced well. But Eric Bernotas, Kevin Ellis and Chris Soule made
mistakes Lund said he never makes and finished sixth, 17th and 25th,
respectively. Earlier, when the actual event had ended-- Lund watched it on
NBC's tape delay--2002 gold medalist Jim Shea Jr., who was at the venue in
Italy, had called. "I know if you were here, you would have won the
gold," Shea told him.
"That made me
feel good," says Lund.
have been few lately for Lund, 26, who was banished from the Games and
suspended for a year on Feb. 10 for failing a drug test. Usually, an athlete
who runs afoul of Olympic doping laws becomes a target for scorn, a cheater
ferreted out by the most stringent drug code in sports. The program overseen by
the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) is often spoken of as a model for
Major League Baseball and other organizations. But, as Lund's case shows, it
can also be rigid and unfair, a system that dashes the dreams of the innocent
and underscores the mess that performance-enhancing drugs have made throughout
Lund, who at the time was near the top of the World Cup standings and
establishing himself as the slider to beat in Turin, tested positive for
finasteride, an ingredient in Propecia and Proscar, hair-restoration products
he has been using--to restore his thinning hair--since 1999. During his first
five years on the drugs, Lund noted on predrug test forms that he was using
them, and he kept abreast of changes to WADA's list of banned substances. But
he failed to check in 2005--the year finasteride was added as a suspected
masking agent for steroids. Though he continued to indicate his use of Proscar,
he didn't find out finasteride was banned until he was notified in mid-December
that he had failed the seventh test he took last year.
At first it seemed
sanity would prevail. The usually aggressive United States Anti-Doping Agency
(USADA) reviewed his case and decided Lund was "not a doper" but was
using finasteride "for a legitimate medical reason," says USADA general
counsel Travis Tygart. The agency issued a warning, but no suspension, on Jan.
23, and Lund took his spot on the Olympic team. But on Feb. 2, WADA, which had
never before challenged a USADA decision, asked the Court of Arbitration in
Sport (CAS) for a two-year ban for Lund. In a decision that was handed down in
Turin as Lund was preparing for the opening ceremonies on Feb. 10, CAS
concluded that Lund is "no cheat"--but because the tribunal is bound by
mandatory sentencing rules for positive tests, it gave Lund a yearlong
suspension. " Mr. Lund was not well-served by the anti-doping
organizations," proclaimed the panel. "But, unfortunately, in 2005 he
made a mistake."
Lund was crushed.
He had to make what he calls "a walk of shame" past other athletes
gathering for the opening ceremonies and surrender his credential to the IOC.
He stands to lose much more. One sponsor has dropped him. ( Lund won't say who.)
If another, The Home Depot, follows suit, he could lose his job as well as his
funding. "I'll lose my house and may have to live in my parents'
basement," says Lund.
Lund has been
stripped of his annual stipend from the USOC and stands to lose access to USOC
coaching and training facilities during the ban. This is not a concern of
WADA's, which last Saturday underscored its get-tough policies by prompting a
raid by Italian police of the rooms of several Austrian skiers suspected of
harboring a former coach who was banned for suspicion of doping in 2002.
"Other athletes all over the world had been sanctioned for a year or more
for using [finasteride]," says WADA chairman Dick Pound. "The whole
point of WADA is to get the same rules to apply to all athletes."
common-sense rules that distinguish between mistakes and offenses is still not
a priority. "It doesn't seem fair that someone like Zach Lund gets a year
and [ U.S. sprinter] Tim Montgomery, who engaged in a pattern of doping, gets
only two," says Tygart. "Our resources should be devoted to those who
are violating the rules intentionally."
Lund says he will
work to change the rules so that individual doping cases can be viewed on their
merits. "I'm going to have the last word in this," he says. "I
never realized how bad the system really is and how few rights athletes
have." Taking on WADA, he adds, "might be a harder challenge than
getting into the Olympics. But I'm going to give it my all, just like I gave it
my all to be an Olympian." Look for him in Vancouver in 2010, when he'll be
a little older, wiser and, no doubt, balder.
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