Jamaican Sprinter Reinstated

Monday, July 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MONTE CARLO, Monaco (AP) — Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey had her two-year ban for steroid use lifted Monday after an international track panel said the lab improperly tested her urine sample.

The decision meant the former world champion and Olympic silver medalist was immediately eligible to compete.

The IAAF, track and field's world governing body, said in a statement that its three-man arbitration panel had decided after a hearing last month ``there were not the grounds to maintain the suspension of Merlene Ottey from competition.''

``Accordingly, the suspension ... ended with immediate effect,'' the statement said.

Ottey issued a statement that was read at a news conference in Kingston, Jamaica.

``I am very relieved and happy at this ruling. It confirms my innocence once again,'' she said. ``It has been a difficult and emotionally draining time for me. However, I've been training well in preparation for the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, and I am looking forward to my first competition.''

The lifting of the ban caused quite a reaction throughout the Caribbean.

``This is news of significance not only in Jamaica but throughout the Caribbean because Merlene Ottey has become an international icon in the field of sports,'' Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said at a Caribbean summit in St. Vincent. ``I believe this is a very good day for us in the Caribbean.''

The IAAF said the panel found fault with the testing laboratory, which ``had not taken into sufficient account factors regarding the specific gravity of the sample which as a result did not exceed the IOC (International Olympic Committee) recommended reporting threshold.''

Monday's ruling was the second issued by the IAAF in a week in a drug case involving a prominent athlete. Last week, it upheld the two-year suspension of Javier Sotomayor of Cuba, the only high jumper to clear 8 feet, for cocaine use. That decision appeared to knock Sotomayor out of September's Olympics in Sydney.

Ottey, winner of 34 individual medals in major international championships, hopes to compete in the Sydney Olympics at 40.

Ottey, a former world 200-meter champion, runner-up in the 100 and 200 at the 1996 Olympics and one of the most decorated athletes in the sport, tested positive for the steroid nandrolone at a meet in Switzerland in July 1999. She denied taking the drug and was cleared by the Jamaican federation.

The IAAF refused to accept the Jamaicans' ruling and sent her case to its arbitration panel, composed of Christoph Vedder of Germany, Monty Hacker of South Africa and James Murphy of the United States.

Nandrolone is a steroid that is easily detectable in standard drug tests. But there has been a spate of positive nandrolone cases around the world over the past year, prompting speculation that the drug is contained in nutritional supplements.

In March, the IAAF said it would conduct a research project to determine whether food supplements and herbal preparations can trigger positive tests for nandrolone and other banned substances. The project is being carried out in cooperation with UK Athletics, Britain's track governing body.

Nandrolone produced 343 positive tests in all sports around the world last year, according to official statistics.

Among the athletes embroiled in nandrolone cases is Linford Christie, the 1992 100-meter Olympic and world champion from Britain, who was suspended after testing positive for the steroid.

Earlier this month, the IAAF postponed Christie's hearing. It had wanted to hear the case against the 39-year-old between July 6 and July 9, but it couldn't agree on the dates with UK Athletics. A new date should be announced shortly.

The IAAF originally suspended Christie, but UK Athletics overruled the decision, and the case was sent to arbitration.

Hearings for two other Britons facing nandrolone charges, European 200-meter champion Doug Walker and hurdler Gary Cadogan, were postponed for the same reason.

Christie has retired from top competition, but Walker and Cadogan hope to compete in this year's Olympics.

Vedder, the panel chairman, said the case would be an important test for sports law regarding nandrolone.