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COLUMNISTS

Fri, August 20, 2004

The Untouchables


Hang around the American track and field scene long enough and you feel the need to shower.

It is that dirty and smarmy. It is that corrupt. You listen and believe no one.

Yesterday, here in Athens, U.S. coach George Williams referred to Carl Lewis as the greatest track and field athlete ever, and in another breath vowed that drug cheats will be exposed.

He never bothered to connect the dots.

That is how you operate when you are rich and powerful and American and can lose seven or more potential medal winners to circumstance -- more if you count how many Marion Jones was in for before BALCO -- and still figure to win 15-20 as athletics begins at the Olympics today.

If you're American, you sell hard. You market your youngest team in history. You talk optimistically about the fight against doping. You tell stories about the opportunities for new names in track. And you keep on paddling.

Because you're American -- and about the only thing Americans do better than sprint is spin.

World record-holder Tim Montgomery isn't here. Torri Edwards isn't here. Kelli White isn't here. The Harrisons, Alvin and Calvin, aren't here. Regina Jacobs retired. It wasn't the literacy test they failed.

"There have been 20,000 positive drug tests since Ben Johnson and I'm still the Antichrist," Charlie Francis, the banned Canadian track coach, muttered.

He wouldn't be either if he was American. They used to have a way of making these matters of concern disappear.

And bless them, the Americans have a most remarkable fountain of athletes. Their list of absentees would devastate any other nation in the track world. Their team is made up of, in no particular order 1) those who qualified and 2) those who didn't flunk drug tests.

"I have nothing to say about anyone who is not here," coach Williams said. "Everybody is looking at track and field right now with a cloud over its head. My concern now is that we go through this Olympics without the rain."

Once upon a time, it could rain on the Americans and no one would get wet. If you were American, you could buy your way out or bully your way out of a positive test. But the Greeks couldn't do it with Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou at these Olympics: The belief is, as much as the chemistry forever remains ahead of the testing, not even the Americans can be that intrusive anymore

"If they can go after Marion Jones, nobody is safe," said Renaldo Nehemiah, the former hurdler who manages Perdita Felicien's career, knowing full well about the historical blind eye the Americans have turned to failed drug tests.

"I know there were more people cheating than what has been announced. I can't tell you who they were, but we can think of who they might be."

Maurice Greene, the 100-metre sprinter, most recently was tested on Aug. 12. For now, he is clean Greene. For now. The last time Marion Jones was tested is not known and she's not exactly sharing that information. The allegations about her getting busted are everywhere.

"We deal with allegations all the time," Sue Humphrey, the U.S. women's head coach, said. "There are always rumours and allegations."

"I don't think anybody will take the chance (to get caught) here," said Williams, who made a speech to his athletes Wednesday, urging them to "respect your family, yourself and the American flag." And then he repeated it five times in case anyone wasn't paying attention.

Still, they are poised for an incident, ready to be embarrassed, hoping the right urine ends up in the right test tube.

This is hold-your-breath time. But the distance between athlete and coach remains, however sketchy that may be.

"We don't live with these athletes 24/7," Humphrey said. "We can't know what they're doing all the time."


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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