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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 2, 2008 10:56 AM

Another day, another medal stripped for USA Track and Field

Posted by Ron Judd

An indelible stain continues to spread over the U.S. track and field program, with the IOC yesterday stripping the Sydney men's 1,600-meter relay team of all its medals in the wake of Antonio Pettigrew's doping bust. The story notes that this is the fourth gold medal and sixth medal overall stripped from U.S. track athletes in the last eight months.

Marion's shadow still looms

The IOC, meanwhile, continues to struggle with what to do about the domino effect of Olympic medals in the wake of disgraced U.S. sprinter Marion Jones' disqualification from her events in Sydney. If they do the usual thing and move the second, third and fourth place finishers up, they would wind up awarding a gold medal in the 100 meters to Katerina Thanou of Greece, who later would go on to infamy as one of the notorious dope-test-evading athletes in her home-nation Games of 2004. Not exactly the sort of example you want to set for the vaunted "youth of the world."

Some IOC members have expressed a desire to leave the gold-medal slot from 2000 blank, and IOC President Jacques Rogge has said gold medals will only be awarded to athletes proven "clean." Thanou, who literally ran away from drug testers before the Athens Games (with her boyfriend, on a motorcycle), doesn't seem to fit that bill.

Ah, the tangled web the dopers weave. But this is nothing new.

Doping through the ages

Doping rumors have long swirled around winners of the Olympic sprints, both men's and women's. It's interesting to look at the scoreboard, and race times, for the past 40 years and 10 Olympics, and speculate about the clean (and dirty) spots on the record for the women's race, which, until Jones' disqualification, had been won five Olympics in a row by Americans.

The rundown:

2004: Yuliya Nesterenko, Belarus, 10.93
2000: Marion Jones, USA, 10.75 (disqualified); silver: Katerina Thanou, Greece, 11.12
1996: Gail Devers, USA 10.94
1992: Gail Devers, USA 10.82
1988: Florence Griffith Joyner, USA 10.54 (wind aided)
1984: Evelyn Ashford, USA 10.97
1980: Lyudmila Kondratyeva, Russia, 11.06
1976: Annegret Richter, West Germany, 11.08
1972: Renate Stecher, East Germany, 11.07
1968: Wyomia Tyus, USA 11.08

Certain times, like that 10.54 laid down by still-world-record holder (10.49 seconds) Flo-Jo at Seoul in 1988, certainly stand out in hindsight. The winning time at the Athens Games, 16 years of nutrition and training science later, was nearly a half-second slower. And the only woman to ever come close to Flo-Jo's times, Marion Jones (10.65 seconds, 1998), has since admitted to steroid use and been stripped of all her medals and records.

Rumors about drug use swirled around Flo-Jo, and intensified after her unusual death, in bed at her home, at age 38 in 1998. The cause of death was listed as asphyxiation as a result of severe epileptic seizure. Medical records confirmed she had been treated for seizures on several occasions before, and an autopsy confirmed a congenital brain abnormality.

She was accused near the end of her career by athletes, including one U.S. teammate, of using human growth hormone and other substances. Those rumors were fueled by her sudden retirement after the '88 Games -- where Ben Johnson, a sprinter with whom she had collaborated on training and technique, was stripped of his gold medal. She also bowed out of the sport just before mandatory random drug-testing was to begin for track athletes, Olympic historian David Wallechinsky notes in "The Complete Book of the Olympics."

But Flo-Jo, like Jones, never failed an in-competition drug test. Medical examiners said her body could not be accurately tested for steroids and other substances after the fact.

It's the kind of story that lends weight to some athletes' contention that all Olympic-caliber competitors give blood samples that can be kept frozen for testing years later.

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Blogroll and links

www.olympic.org: The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information.
www.nbcolympics.com: Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog
www.usolympicteam.com: U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site.
www.aroundtherings.com: Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription).
www.wcsn.com: News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions.
www.beijing2008.com: Beijing Organizing Committee Web site.
www.vancouver2010.com: Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site.
www.london2012.com: London 2012 Summer Games site.
www.sochi2014.com: Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site.
www.chicago2016.org: Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.