The International Olympic Committee stripped gold medals Saturday from the U.S. men’s 1,600-meter relay team that competed at the 2000 Olympics in the aftermath of Antonio Pettigrew’s admission that he was doping at the time.
The IOC executive board disqualified the entire team, the fourth gold and sixth overall medal stripped from that U.S. track contingent in the past eight months for doping.
Three gold and two bronze were previously removed after Marion Jones confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs.
Saturday’s decision was almost a formality after Pettigrew gave up his gold medal in June. During a trial involving former track coach Trevor Graham, he admitted in May that he used EPO and human growth hormone from 1997 to 2003.
Five of Pettigrew’s teammates also lose their medals: Michael Johnson and twins Alvin and Calvin Harrison ran in the final; Jerome Young and Angelo Taylor ran in the preliminaries.
It was Johnson’s fifth gold medal of his stellar career. He has already said he was giving it back because he felt “cheated, betrayed and let down” by Pettigrew’s testimony. Johnson still holds world records in the 200 and 400 meters.
Three of the four runners from the relay final have been tainted by drugs.
Alvin Harrison accepted a four-year ban in 2004 after admitting he used performance-enhancers. Calvin Harrison tested positive for a banned stimulant in 2003 and was suspended for two years. Young was banned for life for doping violations.
“We support the action taken today by the IOC,” USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said. “Athletes who make the unacceptable choice to cheat should recognize that there will be consequences. Those consequences can be severe including the loss of medals and results. We’re in full support of this action. In other matters like this in the past we’ve worked with the IOC to make certain medals will be returned, and we’ll do so again.”
The IOC also disqualified Pettigrew from his seventh-place finish in the individual 400 meters in Sydney. And the committee banned him from attending the upcoming Beijing Games “in any capacity,” including as a competitor, coach or technical official. Pettigrew has retired from competition, and the U.S. Olympic Committee said there were no plans for him to be in Beijing.
The IOC had previously tried to strip the relay team after it became known that Young tested positive before the Sydney Games. But a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport said the entire team should not be disqualified, and Pettigrew and the others were allowed to keep their medals.
Saturday’s move came four months after the IOC stripped the gold from the U.S. women’s 1,600-meter relay team and bronze from the women’s 400-meter relay squad because of doping by Jones. She admitted last year that she used drugs at the time and returned her five medals, including gold in the 100 meters and 200 meters and bronze in the long jump.
The IOC has put off any decision on reallocating the U.S. medals until later this year when it takes into account all the files from the BALCO investigation in the United States.
No time frame for a decision on medal redistribution has been set, although an eight-year statute of limitations expires on Oct. 1.
Nigeria finished second in the men’s 1,600-meter relay, with Jamaica third and the Bahamas fourth.
“That’s such a shame, especially for the ones who were clean, and it’s most important for the athletes who were second,” Sanya Richards, who won gold on the 1,600-meter women’s relay in 2004, said from training camp in Dalian. “You lose that opportunity to stand on top of the podium and feel the joy of winning the race. Those are the people who hurt the worst when there are cheaters ahead of them. Giving back the medals is just a technicality because you can’t repair the hurt feelings and the hard work that went into it.”
The IOC is reluctant to hand Jones’ 100 gold to silver medalist Katerina Thanou, a Greek sprinter at the center of a doping scandal at the 2004 Athens Games. She and fellow Greek runner Kostas Kenteris missed drug tests on the eve of the opening ceremony and claimed they were injured in a motorcycle accident. They were forced to pull out of the games and were later suspended for two years.
An IOC disciplinary panel will meet next Thursday to consider whether Thanou can run at the Beijing Games. The 33-year-old sprinter qualified for the Greek team in the 100, but the IOC is reviewing her eligibility.
Thanou’s lawyer has threatened legal action if she is barred from the games.
Article by Stephen Wilson
Andre Jetmir for iNPLACENEWS