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Gatlin eyes appeal after ban is reduced

3 January 2008

Justin Gatlin Justin Gatlin
By Dave Ungrady

U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin felt such strong confidence he would receive a favorable appeals decision to drug charges filed against him that he applied dietary discipline during the recent holiday season to help maintain top fitness.

"He would not eat certain things at his Christmas dinner," said John Collins, Gatlin's attorney. "I understand he's been working out very hard."

A decision earlier this week by a three-member arbitration panel to reduce what had been an eight-year ban to a four-year suspension deflates any hope Gatlin held of competing at the Beijing Olympics in August. The ban is set to expire May 24, 2010. But the decision has fueled his fight to reclaim his innocence of any violation with Beijing still in his plans.

"I'm a fighter and I've been a fighter from the very beginning and I'm going to continue to fight," Gatlin told The Washington Post on Wednesday. "I know in my heart I haven't done anything wrong."

Collins, talking by phone Wednesday, said he and Gatlin are considering whether to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sports, an international appeals body, or to a U.S. federal court. He added that a decision will be made as soon as possible. An appeal must be filed to CAS by Jan. 31. A spokesman for USADA, which during the hearing defended the eight-year ban, said Wednesday that the group would not appeal the decision.

"We're going to do everything we can," Collins said. "We still have a goal to have him cleared to compete in Beijing."

Collins said he is following the indirect advice of panel member Chris Campbell, a former U.S. wrestler. Campbell wrote in his dissent of the opinion that the U.S. government "should take a serious look" at the practices of the antidoping organizations for "willfully violating the law ... by imposing sanctions on athletes like Mr. Gatlin who take medication for their legitimate disability."

Gatlin, who briefly held the 100-meter world record in 2006, tested positive for amphetamines in 2001 as medication for attention deficit disorder. He contested the charge and received a two-year suspension from international competition that was later reduced by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

The arbitration panel ruled Monday that Gatlin should receive the four-year suspension based in part his most recent failed drug test in 2006 was his second offense. He agreed to the eight-year ban and to cooperate with antidoping investigators following the second positive test with the hope that his sentence would be reduced to two years upon appeal, making him eligible for Beijing.

"Of all the antidoping opinions I've read, the majority opinion is the worst drafted," said Collins. "It's hard to understand it. It's contradictory. The ruling says since he helped investigators, they most they could reduce the sentence was by half. Under CAS rules, there's a basic principle of fundamental law called proportionality. The punishment must be consistent with that of others. Here's a kid who's never done anything intentionally wrong and he's getting four years, while there are people in the BALCO case who did everything to cheat and got two years."

U.S. sprinter Tim Montgomery reportedly admitted to doping to a U.S. grand jury investigating of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative in 2004 and received a two-year suspension following appeals. He then retired from the sport.

Collins said Gatlin recorded conversations with his former coach, Trevor Graham, who has coached athletes who have admitted to doping, including Marion Jones. Collins said Gatlin provided phone numbers and other information to investigators about athletes, coaches and trainers that could be associated with doping. "Anything we learned, we gave," he said. "He did not hold anything back to protect anybody. The panel gave him no credit for cooperating."

Collins also expressed frustration about how long it took the panel to submit its decision. The initial hearings took place July 30 to Aug. 1. The panel reopened the hearing later that month and closed the procedures on Dec. 21. The panel is required to submit its decision within 10 days from the close of the hearings. He said the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency sent four letters to the panel requesting a decision.

"He's just incredibly disappointed," Collins said of Gatlin. "He keeps scratching his head. He never did anything wrong."

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