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3 Sprinters Test Positive for Banned Substances


Track and field is a sport of power and speed, and also one with a checkered history when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. In the past, it has seen Olympians like Ben Johnson and Marion Jones stripped of medals in doping scandals. Now yesterday, the sport hit a new low. Three well-known athletes from sprinting powers Jamaica and the United States announced that they had tested positive for banned drugs.

Joining me to talk about this is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Hey, Tom.


GREENE: So let's talk about who came forward yesterday. One of the athletes, Tyson Gay, I mean he's been one of the world's top sprinters in last five, 10 years - a familiar name in sports. I mean this is a big deal, right?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, it is. He announced Sunday that he tested positive. Neither he nor anyone connected to the case will say what the substance was. Now, he reportedly failed an out-of-competition test in mid-May. He said he's withdrawing from next month world championships. He's heading to Colorado Springs to the headquarters of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, to be present for testing of his B-sample. Athletes doping tests are divided into an A and B sample. He failed the A. Usually the B backs that up.

Now Gay is the American 100-meter record holder. He's now 30 years old and hasn't really been dominant in recent years. Two thousand seven was a high point. He won three golds in the world championships. But injuries have kept him from creating a great rivalry, say, with the Usain Bolt. The season he was healthy, running very well. Last month, he ran his fastest hundred of the year - the fastest hundred of the year. And finally, a showdown with Bolt seemed to be coming next month at the world championships - not anymore.

GREENE: Well, he's made what's being reported as an emotional mea culpa in an interview yesterday with the Associated Press. What exactly did he say?

GOLDMAN: Yet, he reportedly was in tears when he spoke to the AP. He said, and I'm quoting here, "I don't have a sabotage story. I don't have any lies. I don't have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake, or it was on USADA's hand - the USA Anti-Doping Agency - someone playing games. I don't have any of those stories."

But then, David, interestingly, Gay seems to create one of those stories when he went on to say, I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down. Now, you go further. He didn't say who this someone was or how he was let down. Now, the irony of this, David, is that Tyson Gay has been one of the most outspoken athletes against doping. He's part of a USA Anti-Doping Agency program called My Victory and he volunteered for increased drug testing.

And he gave a testimonial that said: I complete clean because I really believe in fairness; and besides that, my mom would kill me.

GREENE: Oh, wow.


GOLDMAN: So those are his words, yeah.

GREENE: So there is an American. We also had two high-profile sprinters from Jamaica who tested positive. And that's country that's really been dominating the speed events in the sport.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely. Asafa Powell once held a 100-meter world record. And Powell was the last great Jamaican male sprinter before the rise of Usain Bolt. He tested positive for a banned stimulant. So did his teammate, Sherone Simpson, who was one of several Olympic medals, including silver in the women's 100 at the 2008 Beijing Games. Their agent said that the athletes are devastated and the doping was inadvertent.

But this confirms suspicions by skeptics in recent years, as the Jamaican sprinters have dominated. And then there's been skepticism that the small country's anti-doping efforts aren't really exactly rigorous. But these positive tests and another recent positive test by another top female Jamaican sprinter, Veronica Campbell Brown, perhaps show that Jamaican anti-doping efforts are becoming more rigorous.

GREENE: All right, big news in the world of track and field: Three well-known athletes announcing they've tested positive for banned drugs.

NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, David.

GREENE: That's NPR Sports Correspondent Tom Goldman


GREENE: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.