The times have, however, lent themselves to a renaissance in American shot-putting. For most of the last two decades, Europeans dominated the event. Barnes, 26, gets most of the credit for turning things around for the U.S. He got the silver medal at the 1988 Olympics, and he broke the world indoor record (74'4¼") in '89 and the world outdoor record (75'10¼") in '90. Even without Barnes, who was then serving his suspension, the U.S. went one-two in Barcelona, and another American, Gregg Tafralis of San Bruno, Calif., had the longest put (72'1½") of 1992.
Stulce is not yet threatening Barnes's records, but he has been throwing beyond 70 feet with remarkable consistency. Last September, at the World Cup in Havana—the only meet that would take him after the Olympics—Stulce threw 70'½" to defeat world champion Werner Günthör of Switzerland by more than five feet. In three meets so far this indoor season, Stulce has had five throws exceeding 70 feet; Doehring is the only other thrower to reach that mark this year, and he has done so only once. Stulce will probably face Günthör and Doehring again at the World Indoor Championships in Toronto on March 12.
By shot-putting standards, Stulce is not huge. He stands 6'3" and weighs 275 pounds, with a chest roughly the size of a bale of hay. He is an extremely nice young man, patient and polite. "I'm going to kill him if he calls me 'sir' one more time," says his agent, Wayne Souza.
However, when Stulce recounts his travails, he does so with the resigned air of a man who has told the tale enough times to know that he probably won't be believed. And there lies the saddest aspect of the drug mess: You want so much to believe him, yet the doubt is there, coloring the conversation.
Stulce started throwing the shot during his junior year at St. Pius High in Houston, after surgery on his left knee had ended a promising football career. As a senior he ranked ninth in the country among schoolboy throwers, with a best of 65'½", using the 12-pound high school shot. In his first two years at Texas A&M, he won two NCAA outdoor championships and one indoor title.
He most likely would have picked up his fourth title at the 1990 NCAA indoor meet in Indianapolis, but a routine drug test there revealed he had an abnormally high testosterone level. He was disqualified from the meet and banned from collegiate competition. Because TAC (since renamed USA Track & Field), the national governing body for the sport, ignores the results of NCAA testing, Stulce remained eligible to compete in open meets. But then, only two days after his positive NCAA test, TAC tested him, this time as part of its new out-of-competition testing program. Although TAC maintains that it randomly selected athletes to be tested, Stulce is suspicious of the timing of the TAC test. He tested positive again and was suspended by TAC for two years, earning the dubious honor of being the first person to be banned under TAC's random-testing program.
"For a year I really believed I would overturn my suspension," says Stulce, who claims that 12 procedural errors were committed in the processing of his TAC sample. He found a lawyer who agreed to help with his appeal. A year after the start of his suspension, Stulce's appeal was finally heard. Notification that it had been turned down arrived three days after the suspension had ended. It came by means of Federal Express.
Long before his appeal was denied, Stulce had given up the cause out of financial necessity, He was millionaire but a college student, grateful to have been given an athletic scholarship and devastated when A&M stripped him of it. Stulce also was banned from the athletic-department weight room and the varsity track. To pay his tuition, he got a job in the student-center weight room, where he still works 20 hours a week. He continued to train for the simple reason that he enjoyed it.
"I've always liked what De Coubertin said about the struggle being more important than the victory," Stulce says. "I like going out every day and working toward a goal. It seems worthwhile. Track and field is not a big moneymaking sport, but it has a certain dignity other sports don't."
Stulce and Barnes have trained together since 1988 but have become even closer through their bans. Says Stulce, "We sit around and have woe-is-me sessions."