Thursday, April 22, 2010

Merritt, Olympic 400-meter champion, faces two-year Ban

Reigning Olympic and world 400-meter track champion LaShawn Merritt faces a two-year suspension for what he said was use of an over-the-counter male enhancement product that he did not know contained the banned substance DHEA.

Merritt, 23, of Portsmouth, Va., was found positive for DHEA, a steroid, in three successive out-of-competition tests from October through January.

He called his use of the product a "foolish, immature and egotistical mistake.''

Doug Logan, the chief executive of USA Track & Field, said via telephone that Merritt had "sullied his career and put an unfortunate stigma on himself he is going to be living down the rest of his life."

Merritt has decided to accept a provisional suspension and not compete until his case is resolved. That would mean he would miss the 2010 season unless he asks for an expedited hearing.

His attorney, Howard Jacobs, said via telephone that Merritt has yet to decide about seeking quicker resolution of the case.
Merritt apologized for his mistake in the Thursday release from Jacobs that revealed the positive tests.

"To know I have tested positive as a result of a product I used for personal reasons is extremely difficult to wrap my hands around,'' Merritt said in the statement. "I hope my sponsors, family, friends and the sport itself will forgive me for making such a foolish, immature and egotistical mistake.

"Any penalty I may receive for my action will not overshadow the embarrassment and humiliation I feel.''

Jacobs said Merritt's appeal would be based on the "exceptional circumstances rule -- no fault or no significant fault.''

The three tests will be treated as a single positive. By accepting the provisional suspension in early April, any ban would begin from that date rather than a later date if Merritt had decided to keep competing.

Logan said Merritt’s admission "indicates an extraordinary lack of maturity and an absence of the responsibility necessary to be a world-class athlete. We are disgusted by this.

"This is not frivolous. It is something he selfishly did, as he acknowledges. This young man is going to find himself the object of a lot of unnecessary jokes."

In the statement, Merritt admitted he had not read the "fine print" on the product, which the Tribune has learned was ExtenZe.

Such lack of knowledge is generally not a viable defense in doping cases.