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Gaines continues struggle to come back

15 December 2007

By Dave Ungrady

Sprinter Chryste Gaines paid the full legal penalty for drug violations when her two-year suspension ended earlier this year. But the U.S. sprinter's on-track struggles continue as she attempts an Olympic comeback.

The 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the 4x100-meter relay anticipates her efforts to gain entry into quality meets will be difficult. "I'm sure I'll run into some stumbling blocks," she said during an exclusive and rare interview with WCSN.com by phone earlier this week. "It will be an issue for meet directors."

"It" refers to the suspension that ended in May. Earlier this week, Gaines talked at length to the media for the first time about her suspension. She elaborated on the challenges she faces in her return to competition and the struggles she has endured since her name was connected to investigations into illegal drug activity by the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative in 2003.

Interest in Gaines has increased since the International Association of Athletics Federations last month requested that all U.S. athletes who ran on relay teams with U.S. sprinter Marion Jones relinquish their Olympic medals from the 2000 Sydney games. Jones recently admitted to using banned drugs and the IAAF took away her titles, some medals and records dating back to just prior to the games. The International Olympic Committee says it does not expect to decide the fate of the medals for several months.

Gaines says she will not return the bronze medal she won on the 4x100-meter relay team even if the IOC requests she do so. "I'm not considering giving anything back," Gaines said. "If the IAAF or IOC contacts me, I still will not give it back. It's not fair to us who didn't do anything."

The Court of Arbitration for Sport, an international appeals body, judged Gaines did something wrong when it ruled in February 2005 that she admitted to using a banned substance to fellow U.S. sprinter Kelli White. White testified against Gaines at the CAS hearing. Gaines began the suspension in June, 2005, and denied this week that she took any banned drugs.

The fallout from the ban has cost Gaines financially and personally. She says she spent more than $100,000 in legal fees and estimates she lost about half a million dollars by not competing for two years. She says she no longer talks with White, once a close friend.

"I thought we were tight," Gaines said. "But I guess she figures it's easier for her to get off by selling out your friends. In a letter saying I was going to get a ban, [CAS] said they accepted her testimony as the reason why they were banning me."

A review of the CAS ruling supports Gaines' claim.

Gaines says the she's not bitter about the drug charges against her and the subsequent ban. "But I'm disappointed that a sport I've dedicated my life to can treat you that way," she said. "As soon as it comes up, everybody shuns you. That's what's happening to Marion now. As soon as it came up, nobody supported her again. She's still human. You can't leave people out like that. I don't feel her penalty is undeserved. She made some poor decisions, but I don't think she made them alone. Coaches, attorneys and agents made plenty of money off of her. For her to be the only person to take the brunt is kind of unfair."

Gaines now is focused on training well enough to round into competitive shape. She says she has been forced to represent herself as she tries to gain access to major international meets. "Agents don't want to deal with all the damage that can go along with it," she said. "But there's not a whole lot they can do differently than I can. My biggest challenge is getting into good competitive meets that will help me get into the Olympic trials."

John Regis is an agent with the British-based Stellar Athletics Ltd. and represents U.S. track athletes Hazel Clark and Monique Hennagan, as well as dozens of foreign athletes. He said he would not represent Gaines and that other agents would likely feel the same way. "It's a matter of principal," he said. "I have issues with people who break the rules to become the best. Many agents would not put themselves in such an uncomfortable position. Also, meet organizers will also probably deny any tainted athlete a lane in a meet."

Gaines was near the peak of her career just before she received the ban. She was ranked second in the world in the 100 meters during the 2003 season and competed in the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials, where she finished fifth in a 100-meter semifinal and failed to advance to the final round.

"It was hard to focus when you have all these allegations hanging over your head," she said.

The sprinter trained throughout the ban but competed sparingly. In 2007 ,she ran in a 100-meter race at a local meet in Orlando, Fla. and at the U.S. outdoor championships, where she was hampered by a quadriceps injury and failed to advance out of the first round.

Gaines, 37, has been working as an academic advisor in the athletic department at Georgia Tech University for nine months and plans to continue her job while she steps up her training. Gaines has worked out at the school's track for six years.

She has no club affiliation and no sponsors but consults with Remi Korchemny, her coach of 15 years, who a few years ago made an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of distributing steroids and received probation.

Gaines said she has no concerns working with Korchemny. "He was my coach before that," she said. "What he does with other people, I don't have control over."

Gaines said she has returned to competition for the love of the sport. "And I believe my 2004 season was abruptly brought to a halt," she said. "I couldn't compete like I wanted to."

Gaines finished 9th at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the 100 meters. She ended up fifth in a semifinal heat, but with the fastest time among those that did not qualify for the final. With Jones' results in Sydney wiped away by the IOC, Gaines mused about what could have been.

"I guess now I'm an Olympic finalist," she said with a slight chuckle.

Gaines hopes that dream will actually come true in Beijing.

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