UT alum Gatlin has long road to Beijing
Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 7:17 pm
By: By MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Banned sprinter Justin Gatlin wants to defend his 100-meter Olympic title in Beijing. He might have to go through Pensacola, Atlanta and even Switzerland first.
The International Olympic Committee said Gatlin, a former Tennessee track star whose four-year doping ban recently was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is not eligible to compete in the Beijing Games, regardless of any ruling by a federal court judge in Pensacola.
“Should he wish to appeal this CAS decision, he must do so before the Swiss Federal Court,” wrote IOC director of legal affairs Howard Stupp in the letter dated June 23 that was filed with the court.
Nine lawyers from the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Track & Field and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency absolutely agreed Monday. They descended upon Pensacola to try to persuade U.S. District Judge Lacey A. Collier that he doesn’t have the authority to override CAS, sport’s highest court.
Last Friday, Collier issued a temporary restraining order that would allow Gatlin to compete in the 100-meter rounds at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, which begin Friday in Eugene, Ore.
Gatlin must finish in the top three of his event to make the U.S. Olympic team.
“I’m not afraid of what anybody thinks or what anybody’s going to say,” said Gatlin, who’s been training with his former college coach in Atlanta. “Half are going to believe, and the other half are not going to believe in what’s going on right now. My focus and determination is to get out there and prove to the world that I am Justin Gatlin.”
Collier heard arguments Monday from both sides, then broke for the day. No timetable was set for a decision.
Gatlin had sought the court’s relief to compete, contending the punishment for his first offense in 2001 — a positive test for amphetamines, a substance that was part of medication he was taking for attention deficit disorder — violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“You can dress this up any way you like, but what it really is is a motion to vacate the CAS award,” USOC attorney Howard Jacobs argued. “You can’t come here now just because you’re not happy with the result.”
Two weeks ago, CAS upheld a four-year doping ban against the former world 100- and 200-meter champion. Gatlin asked CAS to rescind the 2001 doping violation — his first of two — which he had hoped would reduce his penalty to a two-year ban, allowing him to compete at trials. Gatlin’s second doping offense stems from a positive test at the Kansas Relays in 2006.
If Gatlin is again barred from the trials, it’s not clear whether he will pursue an appeal with the Swiss Federal Court.
“The idea that the result will be any different with a Swiss court trying to interpret American law under the ADA act seems a little problematic,” Gatlin’s attorney, Joe Zarzaur said outside the courthouse. “But certainly that’s something Justin should consider.”
If the restraining order allowing Gatlin to run at the Olympic trials stands, the defendants likely would file an appeal with the 11th Circuit court in Atlanta.
“This last stance we’ve taken has probably been the strongest stance we’ve taken,” Gatlin said. “People feel like it’s the most indirect way to come, but it’s been the most positive since 2 1/2 years ago and I’m really feeling good about that.”
Collier made it clear Monday that only a maze of international sports bureaucracy clouded the issue.
“You ought to be embarrassed by what you’ve done in this case up to this point,” Collier told defense attorneys.
Also at issue is when Gatlin’s suspension took effect. CAS changed the start of Gatlin’s ban to July 25, 2006 — the day he voluntarily accepted his provisional suspension — instead of May 25, 2006. Because of that he wouldn’t have been reinstated before the trials even if his ban had been reduced from four years to two.