Startling news from track and field today: 2008 Olympic champion and 2009 world champion 400-meter runner LaShawn Merritt revealed that he has accepted a provisional suspension due to positive drug tests.
His championships aren’t at risk. In fact, none of his competitive results are at risk; the positives were recorded on out-of-competition tests since he last raced in September. The question is when he’ll be able to return to competition. If Merritt gets the standard two years, he’ll miss the 2011 World Championships.
But there are a few mitigating circumstances and oddities that need to be investigated.
The substance in question: a male enhancement product that he started using after last season. He didn’t realize it contained dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a banned substance. Veteran Olympic sports reporter Philip Hersh (Tribune papers) says the product is ExtenZe, for which DHEA is prominently mentioned on the ingredients. (If you’re paranoid about what might happen if your Web browser’s cookies reveal you’ve browsed ExtenZe’s site, just take my word for it and don’t follow that link.)
USA Track and Field CEO Doug Logan, known to soccer fans as the first commissioner of Major League Soccer, released a blistering statement: “He has now put his entire career under a cloud and in the process made himself the object of jokes. In this day and age, a professional athlete should know better. Personally, I am disgusted by this entire episode.”
Merritt makes no effort to hide his embarrassment in his public statement.
As an athlete, and strong advocate of fair competition; I have worked
very hard to push myself to the outer limits of my physical abilities
without any performance enhancement drugs. I’ve always prided
myself on doing what’s right, and will continue to do so.
To know that I’ve tested positive as a result of product that I used for
personal reasons is extremely difficult to wrap my hands around.
But there’s something interesting in the press release issued by experienced athletes’ rights attorney Howard Jacobs. The tests were in October, December and January. Merritt wasn’t told of the tests, Jacobs’ release says, until March. He didn’t learn until “days ago” that the substance was DHEA.
A 5- or 6-month delay? That’s not supposed to happen. Check Article 7 of the World Anti-Doping Code (PDF).
Also a little odd, though it doesn’t mitigate the big ol’ “DHEA” on the ExtenZe ingredient list and on the Code’s 2010 prohibited list (PDF): You won’t find anything about that particular product by searching the GlobalDRO database site that is supposed to help athletes figure out if that bottle from the local vitamin store is on the up-and-up.
I’ve e-mailed the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for comment and will pass on results.
Update: USADA confirms that Merritt had three urine samples with positive tests for “testosterone prohormones.” Merritt has accepted a provisional suspension, the investigation is ongoing, and the agency will comment again after that. No specific answer on the time gap between October and March. I’ve asked one follow-up: Have the B samples already been tested as well?