Sat, Dec 04, 2004 - Page 18 News List

USATF meets as dopping scandal continues to brew

AP , PORTLAND, OREGON

While doping issues still hang over their sport, USA Track and Field officials opened their annual meeting this week by emphasizing positives.

An expanded partnership with Visa, sponsorship and a new bid to build relationships with organizations such as the US Olympic Committee were among the items touted by USATF chief executive Craig Masback in his "State of the Sport" address on Wednesday.

More than 1,300 officials, athletes, coaches and administrators are expected to attend the meeting of the sport's governing body, which runs through Sunday. The theme is: "One Team. One Dream."

At last year's annual meeting, delegates voted to endorse a lifetime ban for any athlete who tests positive for steroids. And doping continues to be one of the sport's biggest challenges.

But Masback said success in Athens, with 25 medals, showed that the organization is on the right track.

"Our clean athletes took the sport away from the cheaters," he said.

The US Anti-Doping Agency is investigating Olympian Marion Jones, one of America's brightest track stars, who has vehemently denied using performance-enhancing substances.

Four other athletes charged by the agency with steroid use face lifetime bans if found guilty. All have appealed to arbitrators. One of them, sprinter Tim Montgomery, Jones' boyfriend and the father of her son, holds the world record in the 100m.

And the ongoing San Francisco-based Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, probe threatens to tarnish other athletes and coaches, especially if the case goes to trial.

"I'm not so foolish to say that we've left the drug issue behind," said Masback, adding that USATF must remain vigilant in anti-doping efforts. "We've turned a corner toward a new day."

Among the highlights for the sport in the US was the emergence of young stars like Justin Gatlin, a 22-year-old sprinter who won the 100m in Athens. Gatlin was honored with the 2004 Jesse Owens award. Joanna Hayes, who set an Olympic record in the 100m hurdles, received the award as outstanding female athlete.

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