Personal Space: Truly Needed and Hardly Granted

Story written by EPelle

Every so often I cross paths with a few specially gifted folks who live in different postal codes than do I - folks who are well-hidden in unlisted locations up in the mountains or outside of the country all together.

You've likely seen them in your neck of the woods, too, as they're the ones with two cars for each day of the week, and have a garage bigger than most of the local houses to store those prized possessions. If you haven't seen them, you've heard them speeding along through the forest at break-neck speeds in their powerful SUV's bearing stickers which state, "Loud Pipes Save Lives".

Whatever works.

Undoubtedly, we've all seen them on television at one time or another and have formed bonds with them... eaten breakfast with them... stayed up late with them... spilled beer over the sofa because of them... bought posters of them when we were kids. And the story goes on one newspaper clipping at a time taped into scrapbooks filled completely past their page limits and stuffed in some dusty box in our parents' atticks and basements.

They are champions - the ones who always seem to win gold, and never seem to lose.

Kids in our small little communities - even those under our own noses and under our own roofs - are doing the same things we did, and, to a certain extent, continue doing today.

Whether you're eight - or 28, you've likely worn your favourite's name across a shirt on your back (or have their names tatooed on your back!) and have had the same heroic figures gracing your bedroom walls - with the exception between you and a kid being the fact that your wives have at some point suggested that you grow up.

These folks whom we hero-worship, I believe, are called athletes - and perhaps one or two of them might reach god-like status along the way.

These superstars walk down a red carpet leading to and from an arena near you, and, deservingly, they are lauded for their efforts and given tremendous respect for putting both feet forward and accomplishing their goals. Most will remain strangers we love, and others will be enemies we bitterly despise and loathe.

Despite our attachments to them, however, we will never really be near enough to them to really know just how far we are from the people behind the achievements - the persons whose mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and old grade school mates know and call them by the names of Justin... David... Kajsa... Zlatan... Carro... Hicham.

You get the picture.

We watch, salivate and attempt to emulate some of the efforts these highly-trained and exceptionally paid athletes put up in their finest moments, but bemoan them and cast them into yesteryear when the intrigue runs thin... the clock runs out of time... the hero falls down and simply becomes a man... a woman... a person just like you and me - a metamorphosis which shows more sign of weakness than it does of heroism.

When heros fall down our knees buckle, our encouragement begins turning into disdain and our attention gradually focuses on the negative rather than the positives.

It is challenging to find positives when the media alerts us to an esteemed athlete's fall from grace, and even more natural to dwell on faults when we base our knowledge on the little bit of "fact" that we know.

We get stuck in a "negativity" rut and, as time passes along, we see the ultimate result once our previously respected athlete crosses the finish line in their race of infamy: Our children take down their posters from the walls and stuff them under their beds.

Or, in my case, an entire collection of trading cards ends up in a fireplace only to be saved by a mother who knew better and a father who counted the money they were worth.

Of athletes and fame, a couple of lessons I've learned over the years is that the folks who live in the estates overlooking my neighbourhood and several others within 60km of their hilltop views have one thing in common with me - as they do with you: they are simply people.

Yes, they have a few extra tax gurus, two or three more gas cards and a higher credit limit on the plastic they keep in their pockets, but they are still human beings who eat breakfast, occasionally skip lunch, and eat dinner with their feet up on the table watching sports highlights just like you and me.

That's about it.

Well, almost.

They also appear on television more often, stay in a few more hotels each week than I do, ride in a few more limousines on their way to work than do I, and have every word, action, statement and admission recorded for immediate and permanent playback whether they like it or not.

I believe that actually does about sum it up.

Most of that holds true for a man whom we call Gatlin, whose mother calls him Justin. Some school girls on his Facebook page call him "cute".

Justin Gatlin was a high school standout in Florida, an NCAA champion at Tennessee and stood on top of a podium in front of the biggest stage known to man to collect a gold medal he had earned following winning the Olympic 100m final in Athens four years ago.

Everything he put his mind to he accomplished, and his status among the elite in the world was as high as one could reach on this or any other planet.

Today, he's a man hanging on by a three-person arbitration vote hoping that another shot at an Olympic title won't elude him as he stands accused of having doped using testosterone - or one of its precursors - after a urine test taken at the 2006 Kansas Relays yielded positive results from the previous 100m co-world record-holder.

There is a very small possibility that Gatlin, a former member of Trevor Graham's Sprint Capitol group training out of Raleigh, North Carolina, is telling the truth - that he has never doped, but public opinion has already cast a cloud of guilt over his house - and on his property in every literal sense of the word.

Gatlin has come under international fire - to a lesser extent than did Marion Jones, and has at times found reprieve and solace spending time with his parents in Pensacola, Florida - a place where children and adults alike still look up to Gatlin for his previous accomplishments.

Though there are those who have looked up to him and supported him through the anti-doping violation he faces, there are others who have taken matters into their own hands, have closed the case and have pronounced him guilty in a manner and fashion which has been both personal and public for the second-fastest 100m sprinter of all time.

Gatlin spoke to Reuters in a recent telephone interview and described what measures some fans have gone to let him know he let them down.
"I woke up one morning at my parents house, and written on the side of my vehicle there was 'Just Say No to Steroids,'" Gatlin said. "That really hurt.
"I wiped it off and went in the house and broke down. It was painful."

Some people have caused me a bit of pain as well for mistakes I've made along the path of life, but I've never had to be humiliated before my neighbours for it. Then again, I've never held Gatlin's job as ambassador of the sport.

Other athletes - and celebrities for that matter - have fallen off the hero wagon and gone on with their lives after a rough period with their groupies and supporters; being in the spotlight for better of worse is part of the unwritten job description, and one which most handle with care.

At what point, however, do we as fans give these human beings space to sort things out, spend time alone with their families and heal from broken promises they made to their sports, themselves and, especially, to us - the hardcore people, who, just like them, have a dying passion and interest for what they do?

I'd venture to say that fans, for the most part, are quite forgiving of people once they bow their heads, pay their respects for letting people down and saddle back up in a continued pursuit of perfection.

Others, obviously, are not. It depends on the infraction and the degree of remorse athletes -- people -- display, and why they are remorseful. Marion Jones is not a person, for example, whose hand I would reach out to shake had I been in a social situation with her.

Kids demonstrate an even greater ability to rebound from the letdown they face when their superstars tumble.

I can't recall how many times I've heard stories and have seen children tape up the corners of posters ripped down when their dreams were shattered and place them back into the holes in the wall where those people once taught those impressionable minds what striving for the harmonious development of mind and body meant - the agon of sport.

In Gatlin's case, he's faced with pressures he brought upon himself in having chosen a coach who was already mixed up in a scandal of great proportions. He was warned and advised not to join that particular group of people by his agent, Renaldo Nehemiah. Gatlin chose to ignore the caution and exercise his free will to choose for himself. He's paying a high price for those actions today as he may - or not - have participated willlingly in a scheme to defraud the sport of track and field by method of deception and fraud.

Whatever happens to Justin Gatlin, a new person will come along behind him and take over the spot of king of the hill.

Jamaican Asafa Powell has already taken back the world record, having lowered the 100m mark to an amazing 9,74 seconds. American Tyson Gay won three sprint medals at last summer's World Championships, winning the 100m, 200m and running the anchor leg on the victorious 4x100m relay. Gay's aim is to win all three events in Beijing in August.

Gatlin is waiting and hoping that his day before the CAS will soon come so that he can pass go. He wants to return to the sport he loves and in which he has thrived. Some of his fans want him to make a comeback to show the world that it judged him prematurely and should have waited until due process ran its course. Others will remain sceptical no matter what Gatlin does in the future, because his name will forever be linked with drugs.

I have a strong opinion of Gatlin the athlete, but reserve the right to hold it to myself and spare you any bias before his CAS hearing is complete.

Next time I see a person like Justin Gatlin pull out of their truck with those pesky exhaust pipes finally smothered when the key shuts off the engine, however, I'll be a bit less critical and more grateful not necessarily for the days they spent entertaining me on television, but much more so for the fact that they truly are regular people like you and me... humbled and down-to-earth on the inside.

Something tells me that I still will likely never know where a person like him has his post delivered, however, unless their kid winds up trading player cards with mine - whenever they are born.


Gatlin Files Appeal to CAS

Story written by EPelle

Suspended American sprinter Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m gold medalist and previous co-world record-holder (9,77 seconds), has appealed his four-year doping ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), his attorney said on Tuesday.

Gatlin, 25, who tested positive for testosterone - or its precursors - after having submitted to a drug test at the 2006 Kansas Relays, has vigorously fought the allegations that he committed an anti-doping offense, and stated the testosterone had likely entered his body without his knowledge and without his consent.

Trevor Graham, his coach, has maintained that a disgruntled and bitter Nike employee rubbed a mysterious cream on Gatlin, and that triggered the positive test.

The employee, Chris Whetstine, denied those allegations.

Later, Graham speculated that he -- not Gatlin -- might have been the target because of anger in the track and field world surrounding his decision to send the syringe filled with steroids to USADA in 2003 sparked the fire which became the BALCO scandal. The federal investigation that Graham launched resulted in five criminal convictions and more than a dozen athlete suspensions. According to that theory, Graham's enemies wanted to take him down by implicating Gatlin, his star runner.

Logic begs to inquire that if this were really the case, that Whetstine wanted to get back at Graham, why Whetstine simply didn't plant evidence on Graham's possession, in his vehicle or at his home, call the authorities and say that he had seen Graham take with him a prohibited substance. Graham would have been implicated and no one would ever doubt again that Graham had any connection to doping athletes.

Instead, the world was spoon fed an incredulous story - which has gotten much more interesting and more detailed as time has gone along - about a pink coloured "s" swiggle, and a recollection that Gatlin told Graham to basically back off when the commotion started. You're first told by Graham that it was he who wanted to intercede, but the tube was quickly put away in Whetstine's pocket, and Graham didn't think anything more of it. Now it has changed and become more elaborate with Gatlin stating, "Let him do his job, man!"

If one takes Graham's side, Whetstine did his job so effectively that he rubbed a compound into Gatlin which had Dehydroepiandrosterone, also known as DHEA, as its active ingredient -- a substance which would without question cause a positive doping test.

Something strange I would like to acknowledge here is that if Graham had any concern for Gatlin, who apparently went through every conceivable precaution as to not ever test positive (including locking his luggage, ordering room service when away), he would have stopped everything right then and there, and told Gatlin he was concerned with what had just occured; he would have rushed Whetstine and forced his hand into the pocket. He didn't. What neatly disappeared in this version of Graham's story is the portion where Graham apparently told Whetstine that Gatlin didn't need a massage in the first place.

"All I saw was the massage therapist go into a bag and bring out something else," Walker said. "He rubbed something else on Justin. . . . It was right there in front of me. It wasn't what he used on Shawn," is what the Washington Post revealed ast year.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which has a strict liability anti-doping rule in place making anything found within the athlete's body their responsibility, originally banned Gatlin eight years for committing a second anti-doping offense. Gatlin was successful in having the original sanction reduced to four years after having co-operated with anti-doping recommendations that he provide his full support in leading to the source of the drugs -- believed to be Graham.

Gatlin first tested positive at the 2001 USA Junior Nationals for an amphetamine contained in an Attention Deficit Disorder medication he had been taking for 10 years. He was originally suspended for two years by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which reinstated him one year later following appeals.

The IAAF did not, however, word its ruling as such that Gatlin had not failed a drugs test, but had rather re-instated him despite the breach of rules in place; Gatlin had not intentionally doped, they stated, but had violated anti-doping rules by competing at a sanctioned event without having received (or even applied for) a Therapeutic Use Exemption, or TUE for short.

Under the World Anti-Doping Code, WADA has mandated that all athletes with documented medical conditions request a TUE, and after having had such request appropriately dealt with by a panel of independent physicians called a Therapeutic Use Exemption Committee (TUEC), promply receive either a grant or a decline of his/her application.

WADA has the TUE rule in place in a concerted effort to ensure athletes do not experience significant health problems without taking the prohibited substance or method; the therapeutic use of the substance would not produce significant enhancement of performance; and there would be no reasonable therapeutic alternative to the use of the otherwise prohibited substance or method.

Gatlin had his medication, Adderall, listed with the University of Tennessee, where he was a student-athlete, but he failed to list the medication with USATF. He competed without having requested for the TUE, and was later stripped of his winning marks and places as a result of that rules violation.

According to IAAF reports from 2001 following the first suspension, Gatlin harboured no resentment for having been banned a year:

"I knew the right thing to do was accept the suspension," he said in May. "I just broke the rules, which were the rules.

"It motivated me to do better this year. A lot of people can't back from something like that. It hurts them mentally and physically. I want to prove to everyone that I'm a strong person and that I have what it takes to be one of the best in the world."

The IAAF, in review of the 2001 case, stated that there was no intentional part on Gatlin's behalf to cheat, and it was discovered that Adderall in-and-of-itself provided no enhancement to Gatlin, but they did not remove the term "doping violation" from their ruling - a sticking point which would cause Gatlin problems in 2007.

The IAAF did warn Gatlin following their reversal of his original ban - though still a violation of their rules, however, that any future positive drugs test would result in a lifetime ban from the sport, which leads Gatlin to his curent situation.

Now that Gatlin has been entangled in a second drug controversy, he's attempted to have the first IAAF opinion erased, and used a number of arguments with the AAA - including having been a juvenile whilst committing the first offense - to no avail.

The majority of a three-member American Arbitration Association (AAA) panel banned Gatlin for his 2006 positive test, having ruled that it was Gatlin's second positive test. In theory, they were correct insofar as in their ruling they stated that had the IAAF previoulsy re-instated Gatlin and not deemed him to have committed an anti-doping violation, they did not specifically and unequivocally state that in their ruling, a split decision that included a 53-page opinion and 22-page dissent.

"If the IAAF “eliminated” any period of ineligibility because it believed that, under the circumstances either there should have been no finding of a doping violation or because Mr. Gatlin had “no fault” in that violation, then the first offense should not be considered to be a prior offense for purposes of the award for a second violation. This Panel is unable, on the record before it, to ignore the first doping violation, but shall retain jurisdiction to amend this award in the event that Mr. Gatlin receives from IAAF or otherwise, a ruling which might alter the view of the first offense in 2001."

"The Dissent hereing makes an impassioned case that the facts and circumstances of that first offense, namely the advice of the USATF and USADA that it was sufficient for athletes simply to discontinue their non-competition use of medications, and law, namely the Americans with Disabilities Act and Swiss Law, compel the conclusion that Mr. Gatlin essentially had no fault at all in the first offense. The Dissent does not explain, then, why that first panel found a doping violation. If the standard in 2001 was simply negligence, and Mr. Gatlin was not negligent because the actions and advice of the USATF and USADA had to be considered as part of the anti-doping rules or an interpretation of those rules, then the appropriate conclusion would, it appears to the majority, have been a finding of no doping offense. However, that was not the case."

Said the AAA panel regarding Gatlin's juvenile claim:

"He asserts that because the first event was in the 2001 U.S. Junior Nationals, an age restricted event, Mr. Gatlin, though 19 at the time, should be considered a minor for the purposes of the Panel’s evaluation under the Guidelines. This argument is similarly rejected with the same cautionary note as with the prior argument."

Prior to his 2006 bust, neither Gatlin nor the IAAF - or USADA for that matter - had acted on his behalf to have the first "offense" removed from record rather than accepting that he had committed a violation and was allowed to compete despite that anti-doping misdemeanour. This has become Gatlin's achilles heel, and he's attempting to recover from that earlier misstep stated by his counsel to be an administrative violation, not an anti-doping one.

"With these filings, Mr. Gatlin is taking the next steps in recovering his right to defend his gold medal in the 100 meters, silver medal in the 400 meters relay and bronze in the 200 meters at the Beijing Olympics," Maurice Suh said in a statement on Tuesday.

The appeal was filed on Monday to Lausanne-based CAS, with Suh requesting the hearing take place in New York.

"While there are many possible avenues that we are currently exploring, the appeal of the arbitration panel decisions are a critical component of his defense," Suh's statement added.

"To use this (2001) sanction to bar him from participating in the Olympics is a prime example of unfairness to an athlete, and a grossly inappropriate balance of anti-doping efforts against the right of individuals to pursue their careers and their dreams," Suh said.

"Most troublingly, it constitutes a discrimination against a person with a diagnosed disability."

The dissenting member of the AAA panel, Christopher Campbell, furthered that sentiment in his ruling (referenced above):

"Mr. Gatlin’s first offence would be covered by art. 8 because it was a mental disability and he obviously faced a disadvantage because of it. Incidentally, so did Mr. Ricky Harris. These Fundamental Rights must be respected by private entities such as the USOC, USADA, USATF and the IAAF. Article 35 states:

Realization of Fundamental Rights

1. The fundamental rights shall be realized in the entire legal system.
2. Whoever exercises a function of the state must respect the fundamental
rights and contribute to their realization.
3. The authorities shall ensure that the fundamental rights also be respected in relations among private parties whenever the analogy is applicable.67 (emphasis added)
"Mr. Gatlin, Mr. Harris and any other athlete who has received sanctions because of taking medicine for their disability have their fundamental rights violated. In the case of Mr. Gatlin, he will not be allowed to work in his chosen profession for two years above what he should have been sanctioned. In Mr. Harris’ case, he was not allowed to work for a year and faces the same draconian predicament that Mr. Gatlin is experiencing. As stated above, there is no justifiable reason to limit these athletes’ fundamental rights. There is no goal pursued by the Anti-Doping Organizations that a retroactive award would inhibit. The sanctions are a violation of the law."

If CAS were to agree, Gatlin's 2006 positive test would be considered his first and he would be eligible for a two-year ban. That would allow him to return to competition in May, a month ahead of the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon in June.

One pitfall Gatlin faces, however, is that the IAAF will have required him, as a banned athlete, to have been available for random, out-of-competition drug tests the past 12 months prior to his potential return. It is not known if Gatlin has been approached by anti-doping officials or been subjected to such tests.

Graham, who faces federal obstruction charges stemming from the BALCO investigation, goes to trial in June before Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco, CA.


Will Chambers Ever Truly Comeback?

Story written by EPelle

Twelve months ago British sprinter Dwain Anthony Chambers attempted to become an NFL star. He attempted valiantly to play in the limelight in America, turn over a new leaf, walk past the transgressions he committed in the sport of track and field and into the promising and quite lucrative sport of tackle football some five time zones and one continent removed from home - and away from critics.

A year later, after having made and then lost out on what was to have been the next stage in his bid to become an NFL star after injuring himself during a practice session, Chambers is attempting to make a comeback into the sport which once hailed him as a hero, and now looks down condescendingly to a man who had cheated his way to the top.

Chambers, the former European Champion over 100m, built his previous athletic success by taking drugs — illegal, performance-enhancing ones which, at the time, were completely undetectable, absolutely unknown and unequivocally wrong to use.

These were BALCO drugs, and having been outed as an associate of Victor Conte and Remi Korchemny, Chambers paid a steep and heavy price for his role in that scandal - one which has mainly been American-based and has involved persons like Marion Jones and Dana Stubblefield - two former athletes who have in recent days both been charged with lying to the same U.S. IRS Agent, Jeff Novitsky, regarding their association to Conte's illegal laboratory in Burlingame, California.

Jones is set to spend six months in prison for her role in that case along with an unrelated check-fraud one; Stubblefield will be sentenced in two months' time.

Chambers, who has never been jailed for a crime many consider relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, has a hill to traverse as he attempts to lace up his spikes and compete for a living - literally and in the figurative sense. No, make that a mountain to climb. He has no less than £180.000 (roughly $360.000) to repay to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for having confessed to previously earning a living on their dime, so to speak.

I've continued following Chambers' NFL and sprint aspirations with keen appreciation, as I had a previous opportunity to spend time with him one-on-one, and experience the sincerity he displays when he speaks about his life openly and with stunning candor.

The athletic road ahead for Chambers will test him to wits' end, as he attempts to jump through hurdles and obstacles to regain form, fitness, and opportunity to compete at an incredibly high price - one which will cost meet organisers nothing in the form of appearance fees, but will cost Chambers everything until he is able to satisfy his debt to the IAAF.

Chambers has a greater debt to Great Britain and his sports federation than he does to the international governing body of his sport, for he has shamed his nation and merely ripped off the former.

Sebastian Coe, Vice President of the IAAF - and former multiple middle distance world-record holder, stated a week ago that he would not remain quiet about Chambers's possible selection to the British team should he qualify, but would leave the decision up to UK Athletics. Steve Cram, who's best mile time removed Coe from the top of the world-record list, also voiced his concerns in a column a day after Coe did.

Chambers faced tall odds on his previous return to track and field in 2006, but seemed to get through them without falling apart in the process. His drive got him back on to the track. His determination landed him to the next level up where he was able to be selected to the European Championships relay team for Great Britain.

Unfortunately, no amount of grit in the world will be sufficient enough to provide Chambers one of those precious few spots on his Olympic team — a goal to which every professional track and field athlete aspires. And his national athletics body — along with several senior-level key players — are hoping to stop Chambers from potentially further ruining their nation's reputation — especially as they set shop up to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

Chambers will need to bottle up all of his anger, every bit of his remorse, his entire stock and supply of hope and combine them with a genuinely large stroke of luck in order to be considered for the Great Britain & Northern Ireland Olympic team.

First, however, he will need to line up on a track and begin putting up times and places which would warrant such a look — a process which will elude him this winter indoor season as his colleagues prepare to contest the World Indoor Championships in Valencia in March. UK Athletics mandated that all athletes who were interested in competing at their national championships would have had to have been in a 12-month anti-doping process as dictated by IAAF. Chambers failed to meet this criteria, as he was not available for IAAF antil-doping procedures during his attempt to make the NFL through the now defunct NFL Europe.

Chambers is demonstrating remarkable composure and dedication to this venture. Will the men in charge at the next junction pick the last man standing, or will they pen a red line through his name, yell, "next", and tell Chambers "thank you, you may go home now, goodbye"?

Whether or not Chambers made a successful journey to the NFL, he vowed last year to return to the track.

"Part of my mind is saying, 'leave track alone' but it is not the wise thing to do. If it doesn’t work out in Tampa, I’ve time for track this summer," he was quoted as saying in the Daily Mail over a year ago.

"I plan to come back to track regardless. It’s something I still believe I have a passion for. At the moment, I don’t but I will in time."

Chambers has a great support system behind him, having his mother, Adlith and his partner, Leone backing him as he continues forward from a past filled with a commitment to excellence, but also a past which crossed over to a darker period he'd just as soon forget.

Of Leone, he states: "If I didn’t [listen to her], I’d get my ear chewed. And then I speak to Jonathan and he brings a whole different perspective to it. It’s tough because I am used to doing everything my way."

Chambers opens up candidly about his mother.

"She always said, 'be careful what you do', and then for her to have to go out still holding her head up when people made comments … that’s hard on her.

"She was fantastic. In her mind, as long as I am okay, she is okay. She always says what people write in the papers are just words. Mind, I only showed her positive stuff in papers. Mothers don’t understand negative stuff, do they?

"She’s strong and she has her church and that kept her uplifted a lot, and during that time I kept with her a lot which helped put her mind at ease, and now she gets to see my son a lot which takes her mind off the other things."

Chambers is attempting to be very careful about how he proceeds in the sport, because he has a life savings of money to repay. He also has several million people who believe he is a pariah to convince that he was an honest man who made a mistake.

Honesty wasn't Chambers's best quality when he was discovered to have been a drugs cheat during the BALCO investigation, and he, like others including Jones, fully and rigorously denied having any connection to performance-enhancing drugs. His country bought it, and stuck with him at a very high price.

It seems that repayment plan - including interest - is not something Chambers will be able to afford, no matter how much sentiment or desire he puts into it.