Tarnished Gold Olympic Sprint Overshadowed by Doping Past

More than one billion people will tune in to see the 100-meter dash in Beijing on Saturday. There is no greater event at the Olympics, and yet there is no race with a worse reputation. Since 1988, the sprint has been dominated by dopers.


Sprinter Tyson Gay of the United States trains in Beijing.
AP

Sprinter Tyson Gay of the United States trains in Beijing.

Tyson Gay's last public appearance before the Olympics is in a pavilion-style tent in Eugene, Oregon. Wearing a blue tracksuit, the world champion in the 100 meters is standing onstage. A Dixieland band is playing. Pictures of famous runners, including Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and Maurice Greene, all Olympic champions, hang behind him on the wall. They make him feel uncomfortable, so he takes a big step to the side.

But Jon Drummond, Gay's trainer, who is standing next to the stage, says insistently: "No, no, no." Drummond is wearing a white tailored suit. He says to Gay: "You're a great athlete. You can do anything. You can win at the Olympics. So behave like a champion." Gay, 26, isn't sure what he means. Drummond jumps onto the stage and pushes him back in front of the images of Owens, Lewis and Greene.

The photographers laugh and take pictures.

Drummond won a gold medal as part of the US team in the 4x100-meter relay at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. But his most memorable performance was at the 2003 World Championships in Paris. After being disqualified for false starts, he lay down on the track and held up the race for 45 minutes in protest. Is this the way a champion behaves?

"Think what you will, but believe me, it won't be the nicest guy who wins in China, but the man who has no doubts. I want Tyson Gay to be the coolest guy in Beijing," says Drummond.

The 100-meter final will take place on Saturday at 10:30 p.m., Beijing time. Gay, whose personal best time is 9.77 seconds, is among the favorites. His main rivals are Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, 21, who holds the world record, at 9.72 seconds, and Asafa Powell, 25, the former world record holder. The race will be the high point of the games: There is nothing bigger at the Olympics than the 100-meter dash.

But there is also no race with such a bad reputation. Since the Ben Johnson scandal in Seoul in 1988, there has been only one Olympic gold medalist who was not suspected of doping -- Canadian runner Donovan Bailey, who won gold in Atlanta in 1996. Of the 15 sprinters who have stood on the medal stand at the Olympics in the last 20 years, only four have completely clean records. But most viewers don't care. When the starting gun is fired in Beijing, more than one billion people worldwide will be watching the race on television, hoping to experience a magic moment, perhaps even witness a new world record. "That's what it's about, that's the job, and that's the purpose of this race," says Drummond.

'Standing on the Moon -- Alone'

"It's a task that can also break you," says Justin Gatlin. Gatlin, 26, is driving his SUV through Atlanta, searching for a parking space. His windows are tinted. "Some people totally flip out when they recognize me. They start shouting: 'Wow, look, that's the Olympic gold medalist.' It's really stressful," says Gatlin.

9.85 seconds. That was Gatlin's time when he won the gold medal in Athens. "The Olympic final is pure energy. Whoever wins it can say: I'm unique, I'm complete. Everyone wants that." He made the dream come true. He says: "I was standing on the moon -- alone."

Gatlin finds a parking space in front of a restaurant. It's pleasantly warm, but he doesn't want to sit outside with the other patrons. He walks into the restaurant and sits down at a table in the far corner of the room.

Gatlin ended the era of Olympic champion Maurice Greene. America loved its new champion. Greene was a loudmouth from Los Angeles, while Gatlin was a well-dressed boy from Brooklyn. He was invited to the White House and to New York's top clubs. "There were people who wanted to touch me, because they didn't see me as a normal person. I was an alien."

The 100-meter race is a huge temptation. "There's so much you can win with this race. Money, fame, attention. It makes athletes crazy," says Gatlin. Tim Montgomery, he says, is a good example. Montgomery, who once dated sprinter Marion Jones, took so many designer drugs that he managed to break the world record in 2002. But he was caught and banned from competition, and from then on his life went downhill. In May, Montgomery was sentenced to 46 months in prison for check fraud. He was also convicted of dealing 111 grams of heroin. His sentence will be announced in October. "He's a freak," says Gatlin.

To hear Gatlin talk, it sounds as if he had forgotten his own story. In April 2006, he tested positive for testosterone. It was the second time he had been caught. He remains banned from track and field until mid-2010.

Kings of the Sprint
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Kings of the Sprint

Gatlin claims that a massage therapist intentionally treated him with a testosterone ointment, out of revenge for Gatlin's decision to stop paying him. The massage therapist says that the story is nonsense. And Gatlin's former coach, Trevor Graham, was recently banned from the sport for life, after being found guilty of distributing doping materials. Gatlin says: "That has nothing to do with me."

The 100-meter race was his life. But Gatlin refuses to allow himself to be driven out of his world. He simply continues as if nothing had happened. He would have entered the US Olympic trials if a court hadn't barred him from competing. Since then, he has opened a training camp in Florida. "I want to show young athletes that they can make it without doping," he says.

Does he include himself in this assessment? "Of course, I'm the Olympic champion."

There are few sprinters who can break world records. They're like phantoms, surfacing for races and then disappearing again. Marion Jones was the most elusive phantom. She won everything, including Olympic medals and world championships. But no one knew who she was. Her first marriage was to heavy-set shot-putter C.J. Hunter -- also banned from track sports for doping -- and then she was together with Tim Montgomery, a sinewy man with a crazy look in his eyes. Jones had a beautiful smile, but she spent most of her time holed up in hotel rooms.

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