CHICAGO – First, the winner of cycling’s premier race. Two days later, the winner of track and field’s signature event.

Never has the credibility of sport been more undermined by doping, nor has the morality of leading U.S. athletes been more called into question.

Saturday’s announcement that 2004 Olympic 100-meter champion Justin Gatlin has tested positive for the same substance, testosterone, as 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis means two of the United States’ leading athletes risk having their entire careers tarnished by stunning ethical lapses.

It also means their scandal-battered sports have suffered another damaging blow.

“This truly compromises the integrity of sport and strikes at its very essence,” said Merrill Melnick, a sports sociologist at SUNY-Brockport. “We presume the field is level and the most courageous athlete will prevail.

“The bottom line is, this is terrible for sport.”

Gatlin, 24, of Raleigh, N.C., would be the most decorated track and field athlete ever sanctioned for doping. He won gold, silver and bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics, is co-holder of the world record in the 100 and winner of both the 100 and 200 at the 2005 world championships.

His situation is worse than Landis’ for several reasons.

Gatlin, who denied having knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs in a statement announcing the positive, has been found positive for “testosterone or its precursors” in both the “A” and “B” samples from a doping control at the April 22 Kansas Relays.

Those positives were confirmed by sophisticated secondary analysis using carbon isotopes, a test that determines if the testosterone involved came from an external source rather than being produced naturally.

“My understanding is the (carbon isotope) test is generally reliable and accurate,” Cameron Myler, Gatlin’s attorney, said in a telephone interview Saturday from her New York office. “At this point, we are focusing our efforts on what caused the positive test.”

Gatlin also faces a life ban from his sport because he was found guilty of a previous doping violation.

“I cannot account for these results because I have never knowingly used any banned substance or authorized anyone else to administer such a substance to me,” Gatlin said in the statement.

Under the World Anti-Doping Code, an athlete bears full responsibility for banned substances that appear in doping control.

Gatlin’s likely defense will involve questioning the reliability of the tests or flaws in the handling of his urine sample.

Landis, who simply denies having used testosterone, awaits his “B” sample analysis, likely to be conducted next week. It has been reported his “A” sample carbon isotope test showed the presence of external testosterone, but he officially has been found positive only for a testosterone/epitestosterone ratio exceeding the allowable limit of 4-1.

The Tribune has independently confirmed the accuracy of a German TV report that said Landis had an 11-1 ratio on his “A” sample. Such a ratio, if reproduced on the “B” sample, would make it almost impossible for Landis to argue his positive owed simply to having a normally high natural testosterone level that went over the allowable within a statistically acceptable range.

“I know we have two superstar athletes in the press,” Myler said. “I don’t know if it’s the same issue.”

The Gatlin and Landis cases follow three years in which superstar U.S. athletes like Barry Bonds and Marion Jones have been implicated in the BALCO doping scandal.

Fourteen track and field athletes, including former 100- meter world record-holder Tim Montgomery, have been sanctioned for doping on evidence related to the BALCO investigation.

“This does raise the issue of what we teach kids about ethics and sportsmanship,” Melnick said.

“Perhaps we need to take a look at the whole U.S. sports system, beginning in T-ball. Perhaps there is a poison corrupting everything.”

There has been a torrent of criticism against U.S. athletes and the U.S. Olympic Committee for being quick to throw stones while living in a glass house. Only recently have U.S. sports leaders been perceived as getting serious about battling performance-enhancing drug use and punishing offenders.

“We have reached a tipping point in the fight against doping in sport,” USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth said Saturday. “The cold reality is this: we are not winning the battle.”

USA Track & Field CEO Craig Masback said in a statement his organization is “gravely concerned” over the Gatlin situation.

“Justin has been one of the most visible spokespersons for winning with integrity in the sport of track and field, and throughout his career he has made clear his willingness to take responsibility for his actions,” Masback said.

Gatlin, who tied the 100 world record with a time of 9.77 seconds May 12 in Qatar, has presented himself as part of the new generation of track athletes who would pull the sport out of the BALCO morass.

“I understand what it would mean to track and field if I ever tested positive or went down in some scandal,” Gatlin told Sports Illustrated for its May 22 issue.

“Not to have an ego about it, but it might be the KO for our sport.”

Yet Gatlin also allowed himself to be viewed with a jaundiced eye because of his refusal to disassociate himself from coach Trevor Graham, who formerly coached Montgomery and Jones. At least seven athletes who trained under Graham have tested positive.

Gatlin’s attitude is not unlike that of Lance Armstrong, who defiantly continued to work with an Italian doctor linked to doping after their relationship was revealed. That increased suspicions about doping that swirl around the seven-time Tour de France winner.

Graham turned in the syringe that led to the discovery of THG, the previously undetectable steroid at the heart of the BALCO scandal.

The New York Times reported July 20 the grand jury investigating Bonds also is investigating Graham.

“With what happened way back in college and the coach I have now, I know that my career will always be shrouded with this allegation,” Gatlin said in June.

“It’s something I’ve grown to live with, something that keeps me fighting as an athlete, helping other sprinters and other youth come along and try to steer track and field in the right direction.”

Gatlin faces a lifetime ban if the positive tests are confirmed as a doping violation because he had tested positive for another banned substance in 2001, when he was a student at the University of Tennessee.

That positive was for an amphetamine, and Gatlin was banned two years by the international track federation. The suspension was halved when he successfully argued the amphetamine came from a prescription medicine he had been taking 10 years for attention deficit disorder.

According to Myler, Gatlin learned of the testosterone “A” positive about June 15 and the “B” positive about a month later. He has withdrawn from several meets since early June, citing a leg injury. An athlete is allowed to compete while awaiting the result of the “B” sample.

“He did have an injury, but Justin and everyone around him decided it would be in his best interests to withdraw voluntarily from competition,” Myler said.

Myler said Graham is not among those advising Gatlin how to handle the doping situation.

“I hope when all the facts are revealed, it will be determined I have done nothing wrong,” Gatlin said.

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