Doping issues overshadow performances

SACRAMENTO – American athletes set the stage for potential Athens Games glory here at their Olympic trials, even as doping and Marion Jones stole the spotlight. The 10-day meet began with six competitors fighting doping charges as they tried in vain to claim a spot in Athens and ended with revelations about three other athletes from coach John Smith’s highly regarded HSInternational group. Torri Edwards qualified for Athens at 100 meters and 200 meters but could be banished for a stimulant positive, while fellow HSI sprinter Mickey Grimes failed in his 200-meter bid and 110 meters hurdler Larry Wade, third in the world in 2004, withdrew. Jones had a chance to try to match the five-medal haul she made at Sydney, but was a disappointing fifth in the 100 meters and withdrew from the 200 meters after qualifying in the long jump with an impressive 7.11-meter effort. The strain of being investigated for months by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) showed on Jones, who has denied any wrongdoing. She was tearful after a long-jump victory and chastised reporters while avoiding questions. «When I talk to you guys, you have negative things to say. When I don’t speak to you, you have negative things to say,» Jones said after her 100 meters loss. «I would rather just spend time with my son rather than speak with you guys.» By the end, Jones was spinning her story as a baby’s mother trying in vain to regain world-class sprinter form, painting a picture that Olympic sponsors and television advertisers will likely favor after avoiding Jones for months. «Sometimes you get slapped in the face with bad performances in a bad year. This was the worst,» Jones said. «It was a lot tougher than I thought (coming back a year after giving birth).» Beyond the circus-like soap opera and credibility questions hanging over US athletes, there came several new faces to join familiar ones to serve notice that US talent at Athens could rival Sydney’s 20-medal haul, 10 of those gold. Shawn Crawford and Justin Gatlin, who both train with controversial coach Trevor Graham, gave themselves the chance for an Athens sprint double by going 1-2 at 200 meters and trailing only reigning Olympic champion Maurice Greene at 100 meters. «We understand that if we work on the start, improve how they get off the blocks, they could be Olympic champions,» Graham said. «We have had great performances all year.» LaTasha Colander, the 2000 400-meter winner and junior hurdler turned 100-meter champion, is another Graham sprinter headed for Europe off a breakout performance. «I’m not surprised,» Colander said. «When it’s your opportunity, you have to give it everything you’ve got.» Graham, the ex-coach of Jones and 100-meter world recordholder Tim Montgomery, reportedly is the man who submitted a syringe of the previously undetectable steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) to USADA to spark the BALCO steroid scandal. Gail Devers won the 100-meter hurdles to reach her fifth Olympics at age 37, a two-time Olympic 100-meter champion still chasing a medal in her speciality. Reigning Olympic women’s pole vault champion Stacy Dragila will defend her crown, while Marla Runyan, the first legally blind runner to compete in the Olympics, returns in the 5,000 meters. No positive doping tests had been reported to USA Track and Field by USADA through the first six days of competition at the trials. But in an age with undetectable steroids, such results are no longer adequate assurance that a new test-defying drug is not making the rounds. And that legacy of uncertainty might outlast anything anyone does in Athens.