- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY — Todd Hays would love to get Dick Pound in a ring, if just for a minute.
By the end of that minute, the supplement that Pound would need would be blood, and lots of it, to replace his own.
Hays, the United States' best chance of winning its first bobsled medal since 1956, is an angry man, and you don't want this guy mad at you. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound bobsled driver is a former University of Tulsa linebacker, a national kick boxing champion who once defeated the Japanese Ultimate Fighting Champion in Japan.
"I talk a little slow now," Hays said jokingly yesterday when asked about his kick boxing experience. "I find it harder to search for words."
Hays had no problem searching for words to describe his anger and frustration over the two-year suspension of one the members of both his two-man and four-man bobsled teams, Pavle Jovanovic, for taking a banned steroid that was in a nutritional supplement a suspension that obviously will keep him from competing in Salt Lake City.
Jovanovic initially had been suspended for nine months last month for failing a Dec. 29 drug test but wound up with the longer two-year suspension after he appealed the decision to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, which put the hammer down on Jovanovic on Thursday.
"It's the right decision," said Pound, who is chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, after the ruling was announced. "It's good for sports. It's good for the Olympics."
Those words cut like a knife through Hays' heart because in that heart he knew there was nothing good about a system that stacked the odds against athletes who are at a loss to determine what is right and what is wrong when it comes to banned supplements.
"I would stand up on this table and scream, 'Where's Dick Pound?' if it would bring Pavle back, but it won't," the emotional Hays told reporters yesterday.
That didn't stop him from taking Olympic officials to task for what he believes is an unfair burden placed on athletes who devote so much time and effort to one simple goal competing in the Olympics.
"They have conducted tests on a series of products that showed about 25 percent of those products have banned substances," Hays said. "But they won't tell us what those products are. They won't tell us the names of those companies. We have hundreds of products in the Olympic Village that are free for the taking. They are everywhere, on every corner, as much as we want."
Hays, much to the chagrin of U.S. Olympic representatives running yesterday's news conference, then picked up a shopping bag, put it on the table and, with cameras recording it all, placed a can of Powerade drink, a Powerade bar and several other products on the table to illustrate his argument that athletes really don't know for sure what substances might be hidden in the most innocent of products.
I doubt this is the kind of advertising Powerade was looking for when it signed up as a Olympic sponsor. Later in the news conference, a USOC representative ran up to the stage and pulled the products off the table.
This is the flip side of the drug use debate in sports, where the good intentions of those seeking to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs from competition run afoul of a system that is still severely flawed.
Terrence Madden, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said Jovanovic's drug test showed levels of a muscle-building steroid that is six times higher than allowed. At the time the punishment was decided, Madden said that Jovanovic's defense of not being aware the supplement he was taking had this substance wasn't good enough. "No panel is going to buy that defense anymore," he said.
Maybe he should have been more aware of what he was taking, but the fact is that athletes are playing a game of Russian roulette when it comes to what they should be putting in their bodies, and not because they chose to. They are kept in the dark, and even Madden admitted as much.
"I look forward to the day when we can tell athletes, 'You can take XYZ supplement.'" Madden said. "We can't do that now."
Jovanovic, a 25-year-old from Toms River, N.J., who has been competing in the bobsled since 1997, won't benefit when that day comes, and Madden's admission only angered Hays more.
"Why won't the IOC inform athletes of substances they know are tainted?" Hays asked, his voice trembling with anger. "Why are companies mislabeling products?"
Matt Roy, executive director of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, issued a statement that was more diplomatic but basically said the same thing.
"The USBSF agrees with the International Olympic Committee's action to insure the health of competitors," Roy said. "However, the burden should not fall solely on the athletes. All governing bodies, including the USBSF, need to take an active role to establish a source of pure, legal supplements to fulfill athletes' nutritional needs. The first step in the process is for all governing bodies who have tested supplements to publish the complete test findings, including names of manufacturers."
Until they do that, then all of this drug testing posturing is window dressing to take the pressure off the IOC, at the expense of hard-working athletes.
Hays regained his composure later in the news conference and said, "You can see this has affected me but now we have to focus on the task at hand, to represent this great nation and to bring home a medal."
He stands the best chance to do that. He established himself as America's top driver over the past season when he posted consecutive victories in two-man and four-man events at the opening World Cup races in Calgary. He also won gold medals in the two-man and four-man competition at World Cup races in Lake Placid. He will have to pursue the medal in the four-man competition (the two-man heats start Saturday and the four-man Feb. 22), though, with Steve Mesler, who has been competing only since 2001, replacing Jovanovic.
If Hays and Co. are successful, he will be accepting his medal not just for those who competed but also for his friend left behind. "I know in my heart, 100 percent, that Pavle is guilty of nothing," he said.
If I were Dick Pound, I would stay away from the bobsled competition.


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