- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

Guilt by association is prevalent in professional running circles, especially when it comes to accusing successful athletes of using performance-enhancing drugs.

Last week, reporter after reporter greeted the news of Justin Gatlin’s 100-meter world record with words of suspicion about how he became so fast.

Even this newspaper got into the game, running an Associated Press story from the meet site in Doha, Qatar, which included the following:

Gatlin, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and a former NCAA 100 and 200 champion at Tennessee, is coached by Trevor Graham the former coach of sprinters [Tim] Montgomery and Marion Jones. At least six of Graham’s athletes have tested positive for banned substances and Graham acknowledged he was the coach who anonymously sent a syringe of THG to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a key piece of evidence in the BALCO case. “He’s such a mentor,” Gatlin said of Graham. “He’s gotten a bad rap in the past. It’s a new era. I’m not them.”

Actually, Jones never publicly failed a drug test, but her association with Graham and ex-husband C.J. Hunter has dogged her career since 2000.

That was the year when Hunter, a shot put world champion, was tossed from the Sydney Olympics after he flunked four tests for steroid use that summer. At that time, Hunter’s nutritionist sternly denied Hunter took the anabolic steroid nandrolone, which appeared in large amounts in his urine samples taken four separate times.

The nutritionist was none other than BALCO’s Victor Conte.

After her divorce from Hunter, Jones and boyfriend Montgomery then quit Graham and in early 2003 signed with Charlie Francis. He is the former coach of Canadian Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his gold medal in the 1988 Olympic 100 for failing two drug tests. Not long after, Montgomery got caught up in the BALCO case, was given a two-year ban last December and subsequently retired.

So what does all this have to do with Justin Gatlin?

Nothing.

We are very quick to explain away Gatlin’s rapid rise from a 9.85 personal best at the 2004 Olympic Games to the 9.77 time he ran on May 12 after a rounding error was discovered and announced some five days later.

Until the reigning world 100- and 200-meter titlist fails a drug test, the 24-year-old sprint phenom should be lauded for working hard to be the best, or in his case right now, tied for the best with Jamaican Asafa Powell.

Maurice Greene, former world record holder and Olympic champion, has been an outspoken critic of drug use. Greene has openly said that in 2004, the Olympic year, he was tested for drugs more than 20 times.

But that never stopped sports insiders from pointing the dirty finger at him, too. Some of his Hudson Smith International teammates have tested positive for banned drugs, including Torri Edwards, the 2003 World 100-meter champion, and high hurdler Larry Wade.

The guilt by association does not rest solely with the sprinters, either.

Alberto Salazar, no stranger to speculation and controversy, was coaching Mary Slaney in the latter part of her career when she failed a drug test at the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials, was suspended and then eventually cleared by USA Track & Field. Today, he coaches many of the Nike Oregon Project athletes, including Adam Goucher.

I was shocked to hear a runner ask me the other day if I thought oft-injured Goucher was juicing because of his connection to Salazar.

Hurry up — The 29th Chicago Marathon on Oct. 22 has accepted more than 30,000 entries and is expected to hit capacity at 40,000 in record time. At its current rate, registration will close during the first week of June, more than a month in advance of the July 14 mark set in 2005, according to race officials.

Last chance? — Registration for the Marine Corps Marathon opened last week, with nearly 1,000 runners signing up at a Pentagon Row rally on Tuesday and online starting at noon Wednesday. Race officials said that more than 10,000 applications were received online by the end of the first hour for the 31st running on Oct. 29. The entry limit is 34,000.

The Marines sold out last year in 62 hours, 19 minutes, but as of noon yesterday, some 72 hours after registration opened, it appeared runners could still sign up.


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