USADA

Frosty in PyeongChang

Frosty in PyeongChang

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Ryan Bailey is an American sprinter. 

He won a silver medal in the 4x100 relay at the London 2012 Summer Games. But he had to give it back because of teammate Tyson Gay’s doping conviction. Like many sprinters, Bailey then gave bobsled a go. Last January, Bailey tested positive himself for a stimulant in a case involving a dietary supplement called Weapon X. Based on a "light degree of fault,” a three-member American Arbitration Assn. panel gave him a mere six months off.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency appealed to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. In December, in a decision little noticed except in track and field and bobsled circles, in the arcane world of sports lawyering and of course in Ryan Bailey’s entourage, CAS slapped Bailey with two years — a signal to one and all not in the United States that anti-doping jurisprudence in the United States might well be considered, well, weak.

What in the world does this have to do with the CAS decision last Thursday to clear 28 Russians of doping at the Sochi 2014 Olympics? The prospect of an appeal from that decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal? Tensions between the World Anti-Doping Agency, CAS and the International Olympic Committee? 

Pretty much nothing, and at the same time — it's a riff on everything.

 

On the Russians: the Olympics are about inclusion

On the Russians: the Olympics are about inclusion

Prediction: the Russians will be at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, and as Russians.

Assertion: the Russians should be at the PC 2018 Games, and as Russians.

Rationale: the central principle of the Olympic movement is inclusion. 

An American story: dude had seven -- seven! -- substances in him

An American story: dude had seven -- seven! -- substances in him

If you saw “Icarus” and you are tempted to tsk, tsk about the Russians and re-fight the Cold War via proxy through the Olympics and international sport, remember, please, that karma has its own zen: the American way can gin up the most vivid details to rival any hole in anybody’s wall.

Kayle LeoGrande, the self-described “tattooed guy” who sparked the investigation that ultimately would bring down Lance Armstrong — the investigation that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would call “a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history” — that guy — just got tagged with his second doping strike — by USADA — with no less than seven — say that again, seven — not-allowed substances in him. 

Seven!

At one time!

A theater-of-the-absurd hearing in Congress

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You know what was missing from Tuesday’s theater-of-the-absurd hearing in Congress on what was billed as “ways to improve and strengthen the international anti-doping system?”

Besides, you know, a big check or a ready-to-implement action plan aimed at improving and strengthening the international anti-doping system?

This hearing had nothing to do with either of those things, really. Nothing at all.

It was an excuse for the fine ladies and gentlemen representing various districts of Congress to take pictures with the likes of Michael Phelps and Adam Nelson — gee, who could have predicted that? — and, more to the point, play to the C-SPAN cameras while bashing Russia and touting truth, justice and the American way.

All the while coming off like the camera-seeking hypocrites that skeptics might suggest they are.

Representative Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon: “Now you’re going to give us confidence that … U.S. athletes, who play by the rules, can compete against other athletes who play by the rules?”

“Thank you,” a smiling Representative Kathy Castor of Florida, a Democrat, told Travis Tygart, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief executive, “for having the intestinal fortitude to stand up for our athletes and clean competition around the world.”

Oh! So that’s what this was about!

“Our” athletes, not “ways to improve and strengthen the international anti-doping system”?

Who woulda thunk?

There were so many choice moments during this nearly 150-minute paean to America the beautiful before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee (whew).

It was so stirring you might well have expected all in attendance to brandish special cereal-box Captain America power shields if, say, Ivan Drago had bolted into Room 2123 of the Rayburn Building to announce that, of course, he was there to break each and every one of them.

Maybe the best moment, however, was when Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey, clearly reading from notes prepared for him, misspoke and referred to the “bobsled and skeletal federation.”

It’s “skeleton.”

There’s so much wrong with Congress having hearings on an issue the elected ladies and gentlemen know virtually nothing about and, more to the point, can’t and aren’t going to do anything about.

But Mr. Pallone’s glitch is altogether so revealing.

So, too, the rhetoric, which in an effort to make one point simply proved the other.

“It starts with the athletes. They own the culture of sport,” Tygart asserted.

“And it’s wonderful — it’s sad it took this scandal to mobilize them in the way that it has but it’s wonderful that they’re now mobilizing and realizing how important this right is to them. They also have to have confidence in the system.”

You'd think it was 1984 all over again, and Marty McFly had just parked his DeLorean on Capitol Hill with the cassette tape blasting Bruce Springsteeen's "No Surrender," or something.

Soviets? Russians? Which? Whatever.

Oh. Still us and them. Got it.

But wait, just to put what Tygart said in some context:

Phelps said he didn’t believe he had ever competed internationally in a totally clean event. Nelson, too.

So what is the only reasonable, logical deduction about the so-called “culture of sport”? The brutal truth?

Athletes all over the world cheat, and if they can get away with it, they damn sure will.

Why?

Because, again, logic:

Illicit performance-enhancing drugs work.

Following that to the stark conclusion:

For many athletes in whatever country — and don’t be fooled, the United States has produced some whopping world-class cheaters — the risk-reward ratio makes for an easy tilt.

Indeed, if you were in the Russian Duma, following Tuesday’s spectacle in Congress, why wouldn’t you hold a hearing in which you splashed pictures on a really big screen and howled in laughter at Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, Marion Jones and scads of baseball stars?

In the background, you could work up a digital sampling loop of Mr. Walden from Oregon saying, “U.S. athletes, who play by the rules …”

Oh, again — in Russia the defining difference is, according to the second of the 2016 reports produced by the Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, “institutional control”?

All that does is point up what happens when you have a federal sport ministry, like they do virtually everywhere else, and when you don’t, as is the case in the United States.

Here, we do our cheating red, white and blue capitalist-style:

To quote Ivan Drago's movie wife, the equally awesome Ludmilla, dismissing allegations that her husband could have used steroids: "He is like your Popeye. He eats his spinach every day!"

Just to underscore the raging hypocrisy of Tuesday’s hearing:

Dial the history books back to 2012, a couple of months before USADA tagged Mr. Armstrong.

That summer, a longtime Wisconsin Republican congressman, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, sent a letter to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the funnel for significant USADA funding, declaring, “USADA’s authority over Armstrong is strained at best.”

Also included were even more laff-out-loud party lines:

“Armstrong, however, has never failed a drug test despite having been tested over 500 times.”

“As attorneys for Armstrong asserted, ‘USADA has created a kangaroo court … ‘ “

“The actions against Armstrong come in the midst of inconsistent treatment against athletes.”

Mr. Sensenbrenner, still a member of Congress, was at the time the chair — he still sits on — the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security. That panel held jurisdiction over ONDCP. Moreover, Mr. Sensenbrenner’s district is home to the then-longtime Armstrong sponsor, Trek Bicycles.

Big picture take-away from Tuesday’s event:

The anti-doping campaign is not easily reduced to sound bites and headlines.

It’s complicated.

Making any sort of real progress is going to take way less rhetoric, far more cooperation and considerably more cash.

This field is simply not susceptible to Tuesday's display of red, white and blue.

Or, more to the point, black and white. It’s a lot of grey.

— Russia bad, Russia bad, Russia bad. Got it, Congress.

Over the weekend, the International Olympic Committee, citing a Feb. 21 WADA meeting, sent out a letter referring to the pair of McLaren’s 2016 reports, from December and July, acknowledging that “in many cases the evidence provided may not be sufficient to bring successful cases.”

So even if Russia bad — it is at the core of the notions of truth, justice and the American way that each and every person is afforded the chance to test any and all evidence the authorities say they hold.

If it’s “not sufficient,” you’re free to go. In this context, to compete.

Same deal for Russians, for Americans, for whoever.

As Dr. Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical director, put it in the statement he submitted Tuesday to Congress, “In accordance with the principles of individual justice, clean athletes should not be sanctioned or punished for the failures of others.”

— Tygart: “If you continue to have sport overseeing investigations, determining compliance, acting as a global regulator of itself, it’s no different than the current status quo, which is the fox guarding the henhouse.”

Tygart’s argument holds intuitive appeal. Moreover, he knows full well that a good many people don’t understand the anti-doping landscape, laced with science, law, politics and diplomacy, so they rely on him — indisputably an expert — to lay out for them in easy-to-follow terms (fox, henhouse) what might seem most constructive.

Fair enough.

At the same time, it’s far from crystal clear that “sport” ought to go anywhere.

Governance is rooted not just in structure but in culture. Eight years ago, the USOC tried to separate the two, when Stephanie Streeter, who had no significant “sport” experience, was named chief executive. She lasted all of a year, resigning amid a 40-0 no confidence vote from the American national governing bodies — that is, from sport.

Culture matters, a lot, and it’s also a fair argument that the anti-doping machinery ought not take significant dollars from sport while churlishly then banishing any and all goodwill, good faith and experience that comes with those dollars to the penalty box.

That’s called rude and ungrateful, and no system can sustain itself like that for long.

— WADA’s 2017 annual budget is $29.7 million. The U.S. government is due this year to put up $2.155 million, or 7.3 percent.

That’s way more than any other country puts up.

That’s one way to look at it.

Another view:

There are 206 national Olympic committees. The U.S. Congress thinks it’s entitled to hold hearings when the American government is putting up 7 percent toward an entity because — why?

Is any other parliamentary or legislative body in the world holding such hearings? No. Obvious question: why not?

Ethiopia recently criminalized sports doping. The new head of the country's track and field federation is Haile Gebrselassie, the distance running great. A 22-year-old marathon runner, Girmay Birahun, is now facing at least three years in Ethiopian prison after testing positive for the controversial Latvian heart medication meldonium; Maria Sharapova is due to return to the tennis tour in April after her sport ban for the same substance was cut from 24 months to 15. Ethiopia, where there's a lot to discuss in the anti-doping scene, is due to contribute a grand total of $3,239 to WADA in 2017. Not a typo — $3,239, and already has paid $3,085.

Should Ethiopia hold a hearing? If it did, should WADA and the IOC send representatives, like they did Tuesday to Washington?

Does Mr. Birahun own the "culture of sport"? Or do only western athletes, and in particular Americans?

Yet another view:

The 2016 U.S. federal budget was, ballpark, $4 trillion. Yes, $2 million is real money. But, context: $2 million over $4 trillion equals pretty close to nothing. And Congress is yapping for more than two hours?

“We can have all the governance review in the world. Which we welcome and we want. I have been in this business for 20 years. And it’s time for change. It’s time to put investment into this business,”  Rob Koehler, the WADA deputy director general, said in response to a question from Representative Chris Collins, a Republican from New York.

“If I look globally at the amount of money being put into national anti-doping organizations,” Koehler said, “it’s simply insufficient. There’s the crux of the issue.”

He added a moment later, “Until that happens, we’ll never see change.”

— The U.S. Olympic Committee is giving USADA $4.6 million this year, up 24 percent from $3.7 million the year before.

That’s real investment, and the USOC should be applauded for seeking to effect real change.

— Much was made Tuesday of a WADA-commissioned report from a team of so-called “independent observers” who reported after the Rio Games that 4,125 of the 11,470 athletes on hand may have shown up in Brazil without being tested even once in 2016, 1,913 in the 10 sports deemed most at risk for cheating, among them track and field, swimming and cycling.

The problem with these numbers is that they are both entirely accurate and thoroughly misleading.

Would more testing be helpful? Probably.

But as the Armstrong case proves, being tested — or passing a test — proves absolutely nothing.

As Sensenbrenner, and even Armstrong himself, noted:

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Passing a test does not prove an athlete is clean.

This is a core misconception.

Testing is not, repeat not, a failsafe. To believe otherwise is naive in the extreme.

— In a similar spirit, it’s not unreasonable if Phelps — who has never given any indication that he is anything but an honest champion — might have had to get up at 6:05 in the morning for drug testing.

You say otherwise?

Here is the way the “whereabouts” system, as it is called, works.

It would defeat the entire purpose of out-of-competition testing for an athlete to know exactly when drug testers are coming. At the same time, it would be entirely unreasonable for Athlete X to be on call 24/7. So the system strikes a balance.

Via the sort of paperwork that Phelps noted Tuesday he repeatedly had to fill out, Athlete X makes himself or herself available to drug testers one hour a day.

Whatever 60 minutes that is — it’s his or her choice.

So, for instance, if the tester shows up at 6:05, it’s because on that form Phelps, or whoever, put, say, 6 to 7 a.m.

Phelps, referring to his baby son Boomer in responding Tuesday to Collins, the New York Republican, said, “I don’t know what I would — how I would even talk to my son about doping in sports.

“Like, I would hope to never have that conversation. I hope we can get it cleared, cleaned up by then. For me, going through everything I’ve done, that’s probably a question I could get asked. I don’t know how I would answer.”

Easy:

Just because you’re American doesn’t mean you’re good, just because you’re Russian doesn’t make you bad.

Everybody has temptations. Do the right thing, son, the way mom and I raised you.

In the meantime, it’s up to the grown-ups to make sure the people running, say, the swim meet have enough money to do every part of what they do the right way.

Also, next time mom and dad will tell those people in Washington to find someone else to take pictures with, OK? Like Ashton Kutcher. When he was doing the same sort of thing daddy did on Tuesday, Ashton blew a kiss to John McCain.

An imperfect compromise: IOC mostly gets it right

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When history writes the story of the drama that enveloped the question of what to do about the Russians for the 2016 Rio Games, the imperfect compromise issued Sunday by the International Olympic Committee will come to be seen for what it truly is: a marker for the ongoing vitality and relevance of the Olympic movement in every corner of the world. Make no mistake. The IOC made — mostly — the right call in seeking to balance individual rights against collective responsibility.

If this decision had gone the other way, if the IOC had imposed a wide-ranging ban on the Russians, there very well may have erupted an existential threat to the Olympic movement.

This is not to layer exaggeration or extra intrigue onto a situation that already has generated enormous controversy.

Rather, the mob that has largely looked past the precious value of individual justice in calling for collective responsibility failed, and hugely, to account for the peril inherent in such a decision for the present and the future of the Olympic enterprise.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and IOC president Thomas Bach at the opening last June of the European Games in Azerbaijan // Getty Images

The Russians, however, keenly understood. And they kept saying so — no matter the smugly furious, self-righteous echo chamber banging for wide-ranging sanction.

The IOC listened. It understood, and keenly.

To emphasize:

There is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, there is a lot that is right.

In ruling that the international sports federations hold the responsibility to decide whether the Russians could come for each of the roughly two dozen sports on the Olympic program, the IOC underscored not only the place of each and every person in the world but, as well, the possibilities inherent in empowering humanity to effect one-to-one change.

When everything else is stripped away, that is what the Olympics are all about. That is why the modern Olympic movement, a project born in the late 19th century, can still matter in our 21st-century lives.

“Every human being is entitled to individual justice,” IOC president Thomas Bach said after Sunday’s meeting of its policy-making executive board.

Almost immediately, the tennis and equestrian federations released announcements saying to the Russians, see you soon in Brazil. The judo federation put out numbers that made plaln a rigorous testing program aimed at each and every one of the 389 athletes from 136 countries who have qualified for Rio 2016.

Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, said the  organization “commends the IOC for favoring individual justice over collective responsibility and giving international federations responsibility to ensure clean competitions in their sports at Rio 2016.”

Life is not binary. It is not black and white, yes or no, a collection of 1s and 0s. Life is made up of shades of grey, and nuance, and compromise — especially in the pursuit of both a practical reality and a noble ideal.

Life is better when we — the collective we — are not implementing blanket action against a group of people. This is a basic of history. And the Olympic movement is, at its essence and at its best, not about being moralistic or sanctimonious. It appeals to our better selves.

As Anita DeFrantz, the long-serving IOC representative to the United States who sits on the executive board, said Sunday afternoon, “It takes courage to do the right thing.”

Even if it is imperfect.

Life is imperfect, you know? The Olympic scene is an imperfect vessel for our hopes and dreams.

The important part: the IOC action likely paves the way for most Russian athletes to march behind the Russian flag at the opening ceremony on August 5.

At the same time:

The IOC said the whistleblower Yulia Stepanova —  a middle-distance runner who along with her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, sparked the controversy by alleging state ties to doping — is not eligible to run in Rio. There simply isn’t a vehicle to permit a “neutral” athlete to take part, the IOC said, and that’s true. It’s a fundamental that athletes compete as national representatives at a Games.

Except that there will be a “refugee team” in Rio made up of athletes from different countries.

And, perhaps more important, the symbolism of having Stepanova on the Rio track would have gone far in promoting the notion that anyone and everyone has to speak up when something might be amiss; overcoming the culture of keeping silent has proven a significant challenge in the anti-doping campaign.

Yulia Stepanova at the European championships earlier in July // Getty Images

Also, the IOC said that any Russian athlete who has ever done time for doping is ineligible for Rio. This misplaced notion is the 2016 version of what in Olympic jargon is called the “Osaka rule,” a notion advanced by none other than Bach nine years ago, when he was IOC vice president. It sought to ban a doper from the next edition of the Games on top of however many years he or she got in sanction.

The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport said, no dice — the Osaka rule amounted to double punishment.

The IOC, and the president, know all of this. A recent reminder: the case of South Korean swimmer Park Tae Hwan, a 2008 and 2012 medalist who tested positive in 2014 for testosterone and got 18 months. The Korean Olympic committee tried to tack on another three years. No go.

The Osaka rule could have been incorporated in the version of the World Anti-Doping Code that took effect this past January 1. But no. Instead, the code now calls for a standard doping ban of four years instead of two.

It’s now up to an individual Russian, if he or she wants, to go to CAS to challenge the IOC move regarding eligibility after a prior ban. There should be a rush to the proverbial courthouse steps; any such case would be a slam-dunk winner; all the IOC is trying to do is effect an end-around a play that already has been shut down.

More: the assertion that no already-served Russians can go — even though athletes from other countries who have served doping bans can, and will, be in Rio — cuts directly against the very thing the IOC sought Sunday to preserve: in Bach’s words, “individual justice.”

The remaining problematic element is the ban imposed on Russia’s track and field team by the IAAF, track’s governing body. It stands.

As Alexander Zhukov, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, noted as part of a lengthy presentation Sunday to the IOC board:

“… We can never accept a decision that allows any international federation to legally force athletes to move from their native country in order to train abroad, so they can participate in international competitions. This contradicts basic human rights and essential freedoms. And it strays very far from the real anti-doping fight.”

Russia'Olympic committee president Alexander Zhukov at a meeting last week in Moscow // Getty Images

This will be part of the historical legacy. And it won’t be pretty.

Sergey Shubenkov, the Russian champion in the 110-meter hurdles at last year’s world championships — “an absolutely clean one,” Zhukov asserted — can’t run in Rio. His mother, heptathlete Natalya Shubenkova, missed the 1984 Los Angeles Games because of the Soviet-led boycott, reprisal for the U.S.-led action against the 1980 Moscow Games.

“Now his dream is ruined and this ruin is dismissed,” Zhukov said, “simply as an ‘unfortunate consequence.’ ”

Hurdles gold medal-winner Sergey Shubenkov at last year's track world championships in Beijing // Getty Images

This, of course, is a  reference to the answer given last Monday by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren when, in making public his World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned inquiry into accusation of state-sanctioned doping in Russia, he was asked about guilt by association.

In 1980, the Australian IOC member R. Kevan Gosper supported the U.S.-led Moscow boycott. He says now he “wouldn’t have made that decision.” A silver medalist in track and field, Gosper served as an IOC member from 1977 to 2013 and retains considerable influence.

The McLaren Report allegations, Gosper said, make for a “very, very serious problem.” Even so, given the IOC’s turbulent history, in partiular the 1980 and 1984 Los Angeles Games boycotts, Gosper said, “To take a collective decision against Russia in a world that is very uncertain, I think, would be very wrong.”

This is what the Russians kept saying.

The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin himself, in a statement released last week by the Kremlin:

“Today, we see a dangerous return to this policy of letting politics interfere with sport. Yes, this intervention takes different forms today, but the essence remains the same; to make sport an instrument for geopolitical pressure and use it to form a negative image of countries and peoples. The Olympic movement, which is a tremendous force for uniting humanity, once again could find itself on the brink of division.”

The former Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who wrote a letter last week to Bach that said, in part:

“The principle of collective punishment is unacceptable for me. I am convinced that it contradicts the very culture of the Olympic movement based on universal values, humanism and principles of law.”

Zhukov’s presentation to the IOC board cautioned against what he called a “rush to judgment.” He said:

“Please allow me to begin by saying that I understand you will make today a fateful decision, which will determine the fate of not only Russian sport, but also of the international Olympic movement, of our Olympic family.

“The recent events have caused a significant split to open in the world of sport. We must remain united in our efforts to ensure integrity, united against the pressures that aim to replace constructive unity with destructive confrontation.”

Nearing the close of his remarks, he said:

“I urge you to consider this case independently of the mounting pressure from certain nations to issue a collective ban in relation to Olympic Team Russia.

“The calls for Russia to be banned from Rio 2016, before the McLaren Report was even published, clearly demonstrate that this goes beyond sport.

“I therefore urge you not to fall victim to geopolitical pressure.

“You can all be confident that Russia will change for the better and Russian sport will emerge cleaner.

“But that can only happen through engagement.”

Precisely.

Not through a far-reaching ban.

In noting “certain nations,” make no mistake about which nations those might be.

The calls for a ban, spun up by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in particular, beg fundamental questions about its role: Is USADA supposed to engage in such lobbying? Or Is it merely a provider of services — if you will, a contractor?

Too, the hypocrisy of certain political leaders in reacting to the IOC’s decision Sunday could not be more evident. The U.K. sports minister, Tracey Couch, said the “scale of the evidence arguably pointed to the need for stronger sanctions.”

This makes for empty rhetoric if not unintentional comedy — coming from a country where the government announced earlier this year it was cutting its 2016-17 contribution to WADA by roughly $725,000.

As for no-question irresponsibility — the Daily Mail reported late Saturday that the entire Russian team would be banned.

For a while, that Daily Mail story was the No. 1 story sweeping Reddit.

Oops.

And then there was the New York Times, in its reporting Sunday, saying the IOC move “tarnished the reputations and performance of all Russian Olympic athletes” while serving as a “strong affirmation” that Russia had cheated “under government orders.”

History will tell if that’s anything more than journalistic bravado — if ever the allegations delivered by Mr. McLaren lead to testimony under oath and thorough cross-examination of all the principal actors.

In the meantime:

No matter the circumstance, and especially in this one, groupthink can prove very, very dangerous. Turning toward reason and away from emotion, the way the IOC did Sunday, is almost always a way better option.

As Bach put it, “An athlete should not suffer and should not be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated,” adding, “This is not about expectations. This is about doing justice to clean athletes all over the world.”

Even if justice is, as history teaches, often imperfect.

Choosing to be on the right side of history

The law of unintended consequences can be a horrible thing. Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know.

If the Russians are kept out of the 2016 Olympics, what will be the import for sport? In politics? In global affairs? Don’t kid yourself. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, can be deadly serious about a lot of things.

To be clear, this is a watershed moment in Olympic history. That’s why the International Olympic Committee needs to be on the right side of that history, and see that the Russians get to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The IOC president, Thomas Bach, at a meeting last month // IOC

There surely will be critics, loud and long.

But the right to be judged as an individual is central to everything the Olympic movement stands for.

At least in theory.

No question: Russia is a key player in the Olympic scene. Putin is arguably one of the three leading figures in international sport, along with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach and, maybe, whoever is in charge of FIFA this week.

The Russians — unlike, for instance, the United States — have not only staged but helped to underwrite any number of significant recent events: the 2013 world track and field championships and Summer University Games, 2014 Winter Games and 2015 world swim championships. Not to mention any number of World Cups in any number of sports, winter and summer.

And, of course, they are due to stage the 2018 soccer World Cup.

Ordinarily, doping matters do not occasion news releases from the head of state, no matter where. Here, though, was Putin earlier this week, in a Kremlin statement, referring to the boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Games:

“In short, people had their dreams broken and became hostages of political confrontation. The Olympic movement found itself in a serious crisis and faced divisions within. Later, some of the political figures of that era on both sides admitted that this had been a mistake.

“Today, we see a dangerous return to this policy of letting politics interfere with sport. Yes, this intervention takes different forms today, but the essence remains the same; to make sport an instrument for geopolitical pressure and use it to form a negative image of countries and peoples. The Olympic movement, which is a tremendous force for uniting humanity, once again could find itself on the brink of division.”

What happens if doping allegations keep the Russians out of Rio? No one knows.

Not much taken with the Russians? Just wait until the only places left to bid for major events are the Gulf States and, oh, Azerbaijan.

One thing we do know: the Russian matter has exposed the complete and utter hypocrisy from those who would ban athletes from an entire state without proven, reasoned, calm justification.

We know this, too, about Thursday’s decision by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport: it is not, repeat not, the case that the Russians, even those on the track and field team, are absolutely out of Rio. The door is for sure open, as a close reading of the CAS matter makes plain.

This, too: the door is still open for Russians in other sports to take part in the Games, which begin Aug. 5, just two weeks away. Indeed, swimming’s international governing body, FINA, on Thursday put out a release saying it was “pleased” to “reveal” the “final entry list” for synchronized swimming at the 2016 Olympics. There on the list of eight teams, between Japan and Ukraine: Russia.

What we do not know is what the IOC, its policy-making executive board due to meet Sunday, is going to do in the aftermath of the CAS ruling, and amid extraordinary scrutiny.

At issue are arguments on both sides.

But the more compelling argument is in favor of the Russians.

That may be a super-unpopular position —especially in the west, and in particular the United States, Canada and Great Britain, where the mainstream media has largely been riding a nouveau Cold War-style rush to judgment.

But it’s true.

And for that core reason:

The Olympics are about fair play.

Everyone — repeat, everyone — deserves to be judged individually. That is the essence of fairness.

On Thursday, for instance, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced that Nataliya Lehonkova, 33, a track and field athlete from Ukraine, had tested positive in February for meldonium after taking it last August and November — but would not face sanction based on guidelines issued June 30 by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

She got judged individually.

Last week, USADA announced it was not going to levy sanction in the matter of an 18-year-old American gymnast, Kristen Shaldybin, of Highwood, Illinois, who tested positive June 7 for a prohibited diuretic. Why? Because it was in tap water that ran through the municipal water supply.

She got judged individually.

Remember, as Sting said, if in a very different context, the Russians love their children, too. The Russians are human beings. Just like you and me. That essential dignity deserves not just to be recognized but honored. That is the Olympic ideal.

For those who believe that what’s at stake is the honor and integrity of the Olympic movement,  check.

The arguments in favor of a wholesale Russian ban go like this:

One, banning the Russians means being on the side of "clean" athletes.

No, it doesn't. The authorities can't prove that anyone is "clean" any more than they can prove that the 68 Russians are collectively dirty. Marion Jones passed hundreds of doping tests. So did Lance Armstrong. Moreover, there's a strong element of intent associated now with the anti-doping rules, and notions such as "choice" can be subject to varying interpretation in different parts of our world. Maybe even in Russia.

Two, the McLaren Report offers evidence of state-sponsored doping. If ever a state deserved to be sanctioned, it’s now and that state is Russia. Yes, there will be collateral damage — in particular the 68 athletes on the track and field team. Sorry, you 68, about that.

That’s not the way any reasonable, rational or logical system of law, ethics, morality or policy works.

At least one of which we can be proud.

And for many, many reasons.

To begin:

In what context, primarily, does the phrase “collateral damage” assume its most significant meaning? War, of course. The Olympics are about promoting peace.

In the 100 year-plus history of the modern Olympic movement, a state has been kept away (or the Games canceled) for only three reasons: war, apartheid and the subjugation of women. Who wants to make the case that doping — no matter how serious — rises to the station of war, or apartheid, or the diminishment of an entire class of human beings?

The evidence in the case against Russia is based on allegation. Again, the entire case against Russia right now is based on allegation only. Are those allegations extraordinarily suggestive? Yes. Are they more likely than not true? Could well be. But have they been tested in a formal setting, under oath, subject to cross-examination? Not at all. Without that — without due process and, especially, the crucible of cross-examination — it’s unfair in the extreme to proceed with broad sanction.

-- The pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva Thursday, after the CAS decision, decrying "pseudo-gold medals." The last sentence, before the emoji string, says, "Power is always feared." --

The Russians can and should be held to the most rigorous standard. But so should everyone.

If you think Russia is the only nation in the world where you could allege state-sponsored doping — call me immediately, because I have a beautiful bridge in Brooklyn I would be delighted to sell.

The United States is the only country in the world where Olympic sport is not an arm of a federal ministry. Just three years ago, Turkey suspended 40 track and field athletes for doping, 20 of whom were under age 23. Because there has been no formal inquiry like the McLaren Report into Turkey, Turkey is in the clear but Russia is under the gun? What if adequately funded investigators were sent into — pick any one — Kenya, Ethiopia, China or Jamaica?

To be clear: that the United States does not operate a ministry of sport hardly excuses American athletes and their record over the years. See, again, Armstrong and Jones. And others.

To which the immediate response is: yes, but the Russians are (allegedly) state-sponsored! OK. Take off those red, white and blue American goggles. Now put on the red, white and blue Russian ones. For years, the U.S. Postal Service, an independent arm of the United States government, underwrote the Armstrong team. Now draw a meaningful distinction — go ahead, still waiting — between what is alleged in Russia and what has been proven in the United States in regard to Armstrong’s massive doping conspiracy and cover-up.

Perspective matters. A lot. Like due process and cross-examination.

The CAS ruling Thursday was decided on what lawyers would call narrow grounds, reference to a section of Rule 22 issued by track and field’s worldwide governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations.

To be fair, international federations have to be able to approve and exert some degree of control over their member federations. No quarrel there.

But even in confirming that athletes whose national federations are suspended by the IAAF are ineligible for competitions held under IAAF rules, the CAS panel made plain the way out for the IOC — should it so choose.

Which, of course, it should.

First, the CAS panel explicitly noted that the IOC was not a party to the matter. Thus, the sport court said, it had “no jurisdiction” to decide whether the IOC could accept or decline Russian track and field athletes.

In practical terms, this amounts to blinking red lights and screaming sirens at a train crossing — it says, pay attention, because we just told you it’s OK to take the Russians even if we didn’t explicitly say so.

This is in line, and not coincidentally, with the position taken by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, which on Tuesday put out a statement that said, in part, “It is important to focus on the need for individual justice in all these cases and ASOIF endorses all IF decisions, including those that take into account collective responsibility of organizations under the IFs' governance.”

Next, the IAAF, recognizing that a wholesale ban could prove problematic, to say the least, sought June 17 to give the 68 Russians a path to Rio: prove a) “clearly and convincingly” that b) you were outside the country and c) subject to effective controls, then d) you could apply to compete but e) only as a “neutral” athlete.

So: not only did you have to be outside Russian jurisdiction, you also had to meet standards for being tested at a level comparable to your competition but without being told what those standards are. Who to look at? Who are your competitors? If you’re ranked 11th, who? Numbers 1, 2 and 3? Or numbers 8, 9 and 10? Someone else?

Let’s say we’re talking distance running. Now your competitors, for the sake of argument, might be Ethiopian and Kenyan. Hello?

What if you are a sprinter? The Jamaicans? The Americans? Jimmy Vicault, who is French?

What about any of that is fair?

Neutral athletes? What, Russians who “clearly and convincingly” could so prove are going to line up in Rio as a “neutral” nation, marching in the opening ceremony just in front of, say, Norway, their newly designed flag depicting a syringe with a big red X on it?

Would “Neutral” fans have to show up the stadium dressed only in gray?

Would those fans shout: “Go Neutral! Go Neutral!” Just like “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Or, “Aussie-Aussie-Aussie oi-oi-oi!”

Absurd.

So absurd that, in practice, only two of 68 Russians have been able to meet the IAAF conditions.

Accordingly, the CAS panel said it was “concerned” about the “immediate application with retroactive effect” of the IAAF’s June 17 policy, explaining: “Since such Rule invokes criteria based on long-term prior activity, it left no possibility in practice, and as applied, for the Claimant Athletes,” the Russians, “to be able to try to comply with them.”

Back to keeping-it-simple talk: “concerned” in legalese translates to “this is wrong, people.”

Essentially, it is super-unfair.

Which leads directly back to the central proposition:

The three core Olympic values are respect, excellence and friendship, all of which point toward fair play and the recognition that every single person in our broken world deserves to be accepted as an individual and, moreover, measured by his or her own conduct.

Anything less is a gross violation of the Olympic spirit, and on the wrong side of history.

And being on the wrong side, as history teaches, is very, very likely to provoke a whole host of unintended consequences.

CAS: Could, should, even might have been asked

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Three years ago, in the space of a week, 40 track and field athletes in Turkey were suspended for doping offenses. Each got a two-year ban. Of those 40, 31 came in a one-day chunk. Of those 31, 20 were 23 or younger.

Did track and field’s international governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, move to ban Turkey? No. Was what happened in 2013 within the current four-year Olympic cycle? Obviously. And yet — the IAAF is seeking now to effect a ban against Russia, and 68 track and field athletes, for the Rio Games? Logically: explain the difference, please.

If only.

At a hearing Tuesday, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport — meeting behind closed doors — took up the matter of the Russian ban. An appeal, brought by the Russian Olympic Committee, challenges the IAAF action last November, upheld last month, that seeks to suspend the Russian track and field federation and those 68 athletes, including pole vault diva Yelena Isinbayeva, from the Games amid allegations of a state-sponsored doping conspiracy.

CAS intends to deliver a ruling Thursday. That decision is widely expected to help guide International Olympic Committee policy heading toward the Aug. 5 start of the Games.

Leaving the hearing, Isinbayeva told Russia 24, a state-owned news channel, that she was “optimistic.”

She should be.

A photo posted by Yelena (@isinbaevayelena) on

-- Yelena Isinbayeva on her Instagram account from Tuesday's CAS hearing in Switzerland --

The case pits the notion of collective responsibility against what is elemental in any system of justice, individual adjudication.

Because the CAS hearing was conducted in secrecy, nobody knows what was discussed, or what the three-member CAS panel might have asked.

Like the matter of the Turkish track and field bans three years ago, which assuredly provides an intriguing precedent, the only limit to what might have been asked is the imagination.

Here, then, are a variety of queries that might have been, should have been, maybe even were asked:

— The presumption of individual innocence is a bedrock principle in the law. Why should that presumption be stood on its head in this matter?

— In theory, this CAS case is limited to track and field. However, since any decision is likely to weigh significantly on any IOC action, please answer this fundamental inquiry: why, if a Russian track and field athlete might be banned, should a Russian synchronized swimmer or gymnast — with no record of doping, per the report advanced Monday by the respected Canadian law professor Richard McLaren — be similarly affected?

Doesn’t that underscore all the more the imperative for individualized justice?

— The IAAF task force that reported in June to the federation’s policy-making executive council asserted, at point 5.2: “A strong and effective anti-doping infrastructure capable of detecting and deterring doping has still not yet been created. Efforts to test athletes in Russia have continued to encounter serious obstacles and difficulties; RusAF appears incapable of enforcing all doping bans; and RUSADA is reportedly at least 18-24 months away from returning to full operational compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code.” RusAF is the Russian track and field federation, RUSADA the nation’s anti-doping agency.

These absolutely are serious allegations deserving of careful consideration. At the same time, these same allegations could be made of any of dozens of nations in our world. To name just a few of note in the track and field context: Kenya, Ethiopia, Jamaica. Why a ban aimed only at Russia?

In noting Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko’s assertion that “clean Russian athletes should not be punished for the actions of others,” the IAAF task force responded, at point 6.1: “There can only be confidence that sport is reasonably clean in countries where there is an engrained and longstanding culture of zero tolerance for doping, and where the public and sports authorities have combined to build a strong anti-doping infrastructure that is effective in deterring and detecting cheats.”

Same question: why Russia only when reason and logic dictate a lack of confidence elsewhere in the world as well?

Jamaica, for instance, contributed only $4,638 toward WADA’s $26 million 2016 budget. Kenya and Ethiopia, $3,085 apiece. How do such contributions in any way suggest legitimacy in the campaign to ensure doping-free sport?

— From the same June IAAF task force report: "At a time when many athletes and members of the public are losing confidence in the effectiveness of the anti-doping movement, the IAAF must send a clear and unequivocal message that it is prepared to do absolutely everything necessary to protect the integrity of its sport ..."

Doesn't this sort of rhetoric merely confirm the theory, advanced by many, that the IAAF bid to ban the Russians is nothing but a play rooted in politics and, as well, public relations?

That the IAAF took the easy way out with the understanding that, per the checks and balances built into the international sport system, this court could then address the Russian grievance -- the IAAF knowing it could then proclaim it had been tough but got overruled by sport's judicial branch?

IAAF president Seb Coe, here at the European championships earlier this month, attended Monday's CAS hearing // Getty Images

-- In a bid to remediate the ban, the IAAF established this policy:

"If there are any individual athletes who can clearly and convincingly show that they are not tainted by the Russian system because they have been outside the country, and subject to other, effective anti-doping systems, including effective drug-testing, then they should be able to apply for permission to compete in International Competitions, not for Russia but as a neutral athlete."

Remediation is a basic principle of law. When such a policy permits one or perhaps two of 68 to qualify, how is this sort of remediation in any way reasonable or fair?

— Mr. McLaren's report, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, alleges state ties in the wide-scale doping of Russian athletes, and across various sports.

The report suggests that such evidence rises to the level of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Has any of that evidence been tested in a formal tribunal, in particular by cross-examination? If not, isn’t any claim of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” empty?

— Mr. McLaren’s report says that he would have offered more evidence but he ran out of time. Is it a coincidence, or something more, that Monday, July 18, was an IOC deadline for “entry by name” to the 2016 Games? Is that why Mr. McLaren’s report came out that morning?

More: if Mr. McLaren wanted or needed more time, why didn’t he just take it and provide a more thorough inquiry?

— Mr. McLaren’s report offers literally no proof that Mr. Mutko authorized any of the alleged misconduct it details. Without such evidence, how can a broad-based sanction stand?

— Switching to technical matters, first the Olympic Charter.

Rule 27.3: the national Olympic committees hold “the exclusive authority for the representation of their respective countries at the Olympic Games.” Again, “exclusive.” That means, in this instance, the Russian Olympic Comnittee.

On what legal grounds does the IAAF, an international federation, assert it has the right to interfere with such exclusivity?

Back up to Rule 26.1.5. The IFs, the Charter says, “assume the responsibility for the control and direction of their sports at the Olympic Games.” Nowhere does that rule provide an IF any say over entries.

But Bylaw 2.1 to Rules 27 and 28 does: the NOCs “decide upon the entry of athletes proposed by their respective national federations.”

More on the same point:

Rule 40 says a “competitor” must “respect and comply with the Olympic Charter and World Anti-Doping Code.” The Russians assert they have been submitting to regular testing over the past several months.

Bylaw 1 to that rule says each IF “establishes its sport’s rules for participation in the Olympic Games, including qualification criteria, in accordance with the Olympic Charter.” Again, not entry.

When the Charter seeks to use the word “entry,” it does so. Rule 44 declares, “Only NOCs recognized by the IOC may submit entries for competitors in the Olympic Games.” Not an IF. And no note here about IF review of any entries.

Bylaw 4 to Rule 44:

“As a condition precedent to participation in the Olympic Games, every competitor shall comply with all the provisions of the Olympic Charter and the rules of the IF governing his sport. The NOC which enters the competitor is responsible for ensuring that such competitor is fully aware of and complies with the Olympic Charter and the World Anti-Doping Code.”

Rule 46 details the 'role of the IFs in relation to the Olympic Games." Bylaw 1.7:

“To enforce, under the authority of the IOC and the NOCs, the IOC’s rules in regard to the participation of competitors in the Olympic Games.”

To emphasize: doesn’t that plainly relegate an IF such as the IAAF to the secondary role of “enforcing” participation “under the authority” of the IOC and, in this instance, the Russian Olympic Committee?

— The World Anti-Doping Code, in Article 10, explicitly envisions sanction only when an individual athlete is tied to specific misconduct. How to jibe a broad ban with the Code?

— The Code, Article 11: “In sports which are not Team Sports but where awards are given to teams, Disqualification of other disciplinary action against the team when one or more team members have committed an anti-doping rule violation shall be as provided in the applicable rules of the International Federation.” How can the IAAF apply a broad ban to an entire “delegation” when the rules specifically call for sanction against a “team” such as a 4x100 relay?

— Again from Article 11: consequences against teams are premised on an “Event” or “Event Period’ such as the period of an Olympic Games. There is no “Event” here. How can a broad sanction against the entire Russian delegation, not a team, stand?

— The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s charge was, essentially, to be a contractor. When, exactly, did USADA — which has been lobbying furiously in the Russian matter — become a self-proclaimed Olympic movement “stakeholder”? And is that appropriate?

— Like USADA, the IAAF has said it broadly seeks to promote — to take from an IAAF news release — “clean athletes and sport justice.” Is it really here to protect “clean athletes”? Or to protect just the ones it wants to protect?

— Outside each and every U.S. Post Office flies an American flag. The U.S. Postal Service served for years as the primary sponsor of Lance Armstrong’s team during the Tour de France. USADA’s “Reasoned Decision” calls the Armstrong matter “a massive doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in sports history.” What is the distinction between, on the one hand, sponsorship by an independent agency of the U.S. government and, on the other, what is alleged to have happened in Russia?

Cycling’s worldwide governing body, the UCI, did not move to ban the entire American cycling team. Yet the IAAF is seeking to ban the Russians.

Really?

#Followthesun, and other hot (maybe) takes

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-- In advance of the publication in the coming days of highly technical planning details, it’s far-more-interesting logo-unveil time in the 2024 Summer Olympic bid game. Paris, for instance, came out a few days ago with a stylized Eiffel Tower. On Tuesday,  Los Angeles unveiled its logo and the tagline, “Follow the sun.” Reaction: let’s be honest here and admit that logos and slogans rarely play a huge role come voting time, with the exception perhaps of the incredibly on-point Pyeongchang 2018 tag, “New Horizons.”

The LA24 logo

The Paris logo

Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, with swim star Janet Evans and others applauding for LA24 bid leader Casey Wasserman

Following the sun: the wow factor from the 30th floor, looking west

At issue in this 2024 campaign is nothing less the fundamental direction of the Olympic movement: whether the International Olympic Committee is prepared to take LA mayor Eric Garcetti and bid leader Casey Wasserman up on what they said Tuesday to a fired-up crowd on the 30th floor of a downtown skyscraper, the sun setting gloriously to the west. The mayor: “Imagination is critical because it leads to hope. Hope leads to dreams. Dreams lead to innovation. That is the story of our city.” Wasserman said a "sense of relentless reinvention and new beginnings” anchor “LA2024’s distinctive value proposition for the good of the Games and the Olympic movement,” a bid with 97 percent of the venues already in place or planned (canoe slalom still to be figured out).

Let’s be honest some more, because at some point there has to be plain talk about this campaign, and it ought to start now, even though the vote isn’t until 2017 and lots can, and will happen. Right now, Europe — pretty much all of it — is a big question mark. As former U.S. treasury secretary Lawrence Summers wrote in Tuesday’s Washington Post, “These are difficult times in Europe with the refugee crisis, economic weakness, security issues and the rise of populist movements.” There’s LA, and then there’s Paris, Rome and Budapest. This campaign will doubtlessly feature any number of references to Paris mounting a fourth bid. At the same time, it needs to be understood that the LA effort is not just an LA, or SoCal, thing; it is America’s third bid, after New York in 2005 for 2012, Chicago in 2009 for 2016.

Straight talk, continued: logic and common sense say the IOC can hardly run the risk of turning down the three biggest cities in the United States in succession. (Of course, it can do so, and an IOC election can typically prove volatile.) But if LA does not win for 2024, it would be exceptionally problematic — and that is putting it gently — for LA to come back for 2028, or to see any other American city step up. It takes millions of dollars to run a bid, and in the United States that money has to be privately raised. The money is here and now for LA24. Imagine a 2024 loss — and then Wasserman going back to all those he hit up for $1 million apiece and saying, looking at 2028, something like, oh, well, now the IOC is going to treat us fairly. Not going to happen. The time is now.

-- IOC president Thomas Bach was in LA earlier this month, making the rounds after prior visits to Paris, Rome and Budapest, the other cities in the 2024 race. Bach then went up to Silicon Valley for talks.

Reaction: so curious that the far more important purpose of Bach’s California trip, the excursion to Silicon Valley, drew  minimal press attention. He met with representatives of Visa, Facebook, Twitter and Google, among others. The IOC needs big-time help in reaching out to young people; it is focused in particular on the launch of the Olympic Channel. If you’re an IOC member, looking at that line-up in California, and there’s a California bid, doesn’t that too comport with logic and common sense?

IOC president Thomas Bach, center, at Google HQ // photo IOC

-- One more LA note. The U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon went down Saturday on a course that wound around downtown and the University of Southern California campus. Galen Rupp won on the men’s side. Many in the running press (there is such a thing) immediately pointed to the possibility of Rupp, silver medalist in the 10k in London in 2012, running both the 10k and the marathon in Rio.

Reaction: let’s wait to see what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has to say in the coming months, if anything, about Rupp and his coach, Alberto Salazar. As Kara Goucher, the women’s fourth-place finisher, said after the race, "Justice is coming."

Kara Goucher near the finish of Saturday's U.S. marathon Trials // Getty Images

-- Speaking of the IOC’s purported youth outreach: the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer are on.

Reaction: did you notice? Did anyone — like, any teens or 20-somethings? The very best part about the YOG experiment is the Young Reporters program, which has produced a number of promising young stars. There’s also an argument that the Youth Games serve as a petri dish of sorts, allowing the IOC and, perhaps more important, the international sports federations to check out without real peril events such as skateboarding (Nanjing YOG, 2014) and, now in Lillehammer, parkour. Fine. But that’s not the point of YOG, expressed by former IOC president Jacques Rogge in launching it. It’s to connect meaningfully with young people. How’s that going?

-- Speaking of a way that actually works in reaching young people: kudos to organizers, and especially the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., for the Big Air event a few days ago at Boston's Fenway Park. It featured jumps and tricks off a 140-foot ramp set up on the field at the iconic baseball stadium.

Reaction: terrific idea, terrific execution. Great stuff, especially on TV.

Women's winner Julia Marino, 18, of Westport, Conn., during the Big Air event at Fenway Park // Getty Images

-- USA Swimming announces a contract extension, through the end of 2020, for executive director Chuck Wielgus.

Chuck Wielgus // photo USA Swimming

Reaction: USA Swimming is one of a handful of well-run national governing bodies, and that is in significant measure due to Wielgus, who is a fundamentally decent human being. Anyone who knows USA Swimming knows Wielgus has wrestled for years now with cancer; he deserves widespread admiration and respect for the soft-spoken courage he has repeatedly shown in public in dealing with significant medical issues. Switching gears: the well-publicized challenges sparked by sexual abuse of young swimmers are not — repeat, not — Chuck Wielgus’ fault. Six years ago, in particular in regard to the comments he made on an ABC 20/20 investigation, was Wielgus at his best when he said he didn’t feel the need to apologize? No. Does an 18-year tenure deserve to be judged by one moment? No. And, now, USA Swimming is way ahead of the curve with its SafeSport program. If you want to criticize Wielgus, he deserves credit, too, for realizing, perhaps belatedly, what was wrong and helping to craft an industry-standard response. What should be Wielgus’ next goal: effecting fundamental change in the USA Swimming governance structure. Simply, the board of directors has too many people; it’s too big and unwieldy. Better for USA Swimming to do what it does best, and be a leader in the field, meaning slim down the board, before something happens — whatever that might be — to compel change under pressure.

-- Michael Phelps shows up in a swim brief and has fun with the Arizona State basketball-game "Curtain of Distraction."

Phelps doing his thing at the ASU basketball game // screenshot Pac-12 network

Reaction: you can just tell the guy is happy. Which means: watch out, world. Prediction, absent a huge surprise at the U.S. Trials: five Rio gold medals (200 IM, 200 butterfly, 100 fly, 800 relay, medley relay), and that is no knock on his friend and rival, Ryan Lochte. As long as Lochte continues to pursue the 200 backstroke — at the Olympics, the 200 back final goes down before the 200 IM final on the same night — it’s a lot to ask, particularly of the legs, to go for gold in the 200 IM, too. As for the butterfly events, Chad le Clos of South Africa is a major talent. But in saying last summer after winning the 100 fly at the world championships (Phelps did not swim at the 2015 worlds) that Phelps could “keep quiet now,” le Clos awoke the tiger, and probably foolishly. Phelps has always done best when someone goes and trash talks — ask, in sequence, Ian Thorpe, Ian Crocker and, of course, Milorad Cavic. The x factor for Phelps in Rio: the 400 free relay, one of the signature moments at the Beijing 2008 Games, when Jason Lezak turned in an otherworldly last leg to beat Alain Bernard and the French. For the past couple years, the French have been the world’s best in that event, and it’s not clear, at least yet, that even with Phelps the U.S. has what it takes.

-- The Zika virus takes over the Olympic news cycle, and U.S. soccer women’s national team goalie Hope Solo, among others, expresses concern about being part of it all in Rio.

Prediction: Solo goes to Rio.

-- Two former officials with the Russian anti-doping agency, which goes by the acronym RUSADA, die within two weeks. Founding chairman Vyacheslav Sinev, who left RUSADA in 2010, died Feb. 3. Then this past Sunday, Feb. 14, the former RUSADA executive director Nikita Kamaev, died, just 52, of a “massive heart attack,” the agency said. Kamaev had resigned just two months ago, amid the doping scandal that sparked suspension of the Russian track and field program. That scandal is tied, in part, to a November report from a World Anti-Doping Agency commission that suggested state-sponsored doping. On Feb. 11, three days before Kamaev’s death, the Russian prosecutor-general’s office (predictably) rejected the WADA commission report, saying it held no concrete facts proving state-sponsored doping.

Reaction: it's like a Russian novel, full of twists and turns and who knows what. For that matter: who knows, really, what is believed to be real in Russia, and what is not? This prediction, though: like Hope Solo, the Russian track and field team will be in Rio. The IOC is super-big on a concept called “universality,” which means everyone in the entire world coming together. It’s actually a fundamental rationale for the Games. Given that, how possibly can officials — in particular track and field’s international governing body, the IAAF, or more, the IOC — keep the Russian track and field team away? Also: who really wants to challenge Vladimir Putin, given the potential for many uncertain ramifications?

-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dies over the weekend at a ranch in Texas.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia // Getty Images

Chuck Blazer, once a senior soccer executive // Getty Images

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the FIFA matter last December in Washington // Getty Images

Reaction: what might that have to do with sports? Turn to a case called Crawford vs. Washington, decided in 2004. The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that in a criminal case, the defendant “shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” What does that mean when someone makes a “testimonial” statement out-of-court but doesn’t (that is, can’t, for instance because of illness, or won’t, because of the assertion of privilege) testify in court itself? Writing for a unanimous 9-0 court, Scalia said the “testimonial” statement can’t be admitted as evidence — unless the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the person who made that statement.

So, again: sports? The U.S. Department of Justice inquiry into corruption at FIFA centers on Chuck Blazer, the American who was formerly a high-ranking soccer-world executive. Blazer reportedly has been ill for years with colon cancer. What if he dies before any trial? Would anything he had to say be admissible? For that matter, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has already been prominently mentioned as a potential Scalia replacement. Would the Justice Department be so interested in aggressively pursuing soccer stuff if someone else took over?

Who knew what, when? And what is to be done?

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The World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report that shines a long-overdue spotlight on Russian doping in track and field begs a question in Russian history. As Lenin himself wrote in the famous pamphlet published in 1902: what is to be done? At the same time, and though the report, released Monday, has little to nothing to do with the United States, a bit of political history from the American archives is worth noting, too. From the Watergate years: who knew what, and when?

Make no mistake.

On the surface, this report is about track and field.

Not really.

This is about the intersection of sport and politics, indeed domestic and geopolitics at its highest, most complex, indeed most nuanced levels. Its roots are in the way countries can, and do, lean on sports to advance nationalistic agendas of all sorts.

The WADA-appointed three-member Independent Commission upon the release of the report Monday in Geneva: Canadian lawyer and professor Richard McLaren, former WADA president Richard Pound and German law enforcement official Guenter Younger // photo Getty Images

The report is lengthy, more than 300 pages.

Much like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s “Reasoned Decision” in the Lance Armstrong matter, made public in 2012, and for the same reason, it reads like a John le Carré spy novel.

That reason: it’s designed not just for insiders but for everyone.

The report is rich with Olympics 101, spelling out the acronym- and influence-rich scene, explaining who is who and what is what — for instance, on page 88, the helpful note that “stacking” means mixing oral steroids with injectable drugs.

In sum, this is what the report says:

— Corrupt state-funded agencies helped Russian athletes to dope and evade detection. These include the Russian athletics federation, which goes by the initials ARAF; the WADA-accredited testing laboratory in Moscow; and RUSADA, the Russian anti-doping agency.

— The successor to the KGB secret service, the FSB intelligence agency, oversaw the lab and embedded spies at the 2014 Sochi Games, according to witnesses.

— The Russian sports ministry exerted influence on the Moscow lab, issuing orders for athletes’ samples to be manipulated. There was a second, secret lab in Moscow; there, samples — blood and urine — would be pre-screened to identify clear ones for the WADA process.

— Finally, athletes would also get false identities to travel abroad to evade possible testing.

The first question in wondering what is to be done is to ask: if the scale of Russian doping was this monumental, evoking comparisons to the notorious East German regime in the 1970s, how did it take until now to get uncovered?

Answer:

It’s not as if certain people didn’t at the least have strong suspicions. They just couldn’t prove anything.

You don’t just stroll into Russia and go, hey, I have some questions for you — buy you a coffee and we’ll chat?

The report makes manifestly plain the lengths to which athletes, coaches, trainers and more sought to evade the providing of answers.

Further, the international sports movement moves in English. Russia does not.

Beyond that, to secure proof you need either cooperation or, to use a word, leverage. That leverage usually means action from the public authorities, police and prosecutors, who can demand answers at the risk of jail time or financial ruin.

This is what’s happening in France, where Interpol, the international police agency, is based, and where Part II of all of this is due to drop later this year. Last week, the French authorities said they had put under criminal investigation Lamine Diack of Senegal, the former president of track’s international governing body, the IAAF, on suspicion of corruption and money laundering. At issue are allegations Diack accepted more than $1 million in bribes to allow at least six Russian athletes to compete, including at the London 2012 Olympics.

Also under investigation are Diack’s legal adviser, Habib Cisse, and the former head of the IAAF anti-doping department, Gabriel Dollé.

Sports agencies do not wield subpoena power. And those who seek to enforce the rules of fair play have not always found easy sledding.

WADA is now 16 years old. As Monday’s report notes, “WADA continues to face a recalcitrant attitude on the part of many stakeholders that it is merely a service provider and not a regulator.”

The report actually underscores a fundamental flaw in the way, big picture, international sports work. There typically is no check-and-balance within the system.

The only reliable check is good journalism, and kudos here to Hajo Seppelt and the team from the German broadcaster ARD for the documentary last year that led to the WADA-appointed commission, and this report.

Reality: far too often, Olympic and international sports officials treat journalists with that pair of favorites, skepticism and derision. This week’s international federations forum at the IOC base in Lausanne, Switzerland — closed to the press.

Why?

Maybe because far too many are afraid of — the truth? And having it reported?

Earlier this year, Marius Vizer, the president of the International Judo Federation and at the time of SportAccord, said at the SportAccord convention, referring to Diack, “I dedicate and I sacrifice my family for sport, I mean sacrifice in a way of dedication, and in my eyes [Diack is] a person who sacrifices sport for his family."

Quickly, many others in the so-called Olympic family turned on Vizer. He lost the SportAccord job.

Time has now seemingly proven him right. So why were so many in senior positions so uneasy at hearing what Vizer had to say? Why was he so ostracized?

And what else -- beyond FIFA -- might be out there?

At any rate, and moving on to the rocks-and-glass houses department for those who think doping in sports is a Russia-only problem:

Cheating is never going to go away. There will always be doping. That's human nature.

From the WADA-appointed report: “… in  its considered view, Russia is not the only country, nor athletics the only sport, facing the problem of orchestrated doping in sport."

Just consider what the United States has been through in recent years: Marion Jones and BALCO, MLB’s steroid problem, Armstrong.

Here, though, is the key difference:

There is no federal sports ministry in the United States.

Dick Pound, the longtime Canadian IOC member and former WADA boss who headed the commission that produced Monday’s report, called what happened with regard to Russian track and field “state-supported.”

He said, “I don’t think there's any other possible conclusion. It may be a residue of the old Soviet Union system."

The report: “While written evidence of governmental involvement has not been produced, it would be naive in the extreme to conclude that activities on the scale discovered could have occurred without the explicit or tacit approval of Russian governmental authorities.”

This is where things get really interesting.

In the Olympic sphere, Russia is arguably the most important country in the world.

The short list why:

The $51 billion that went toward the 2014 Sochi Games. Hosting of the 2013 world track and field championships in Moscow, and the 2015 world swim championships in Kazan. The 2018 World Cup. The 2015 SportAccord convention, back in Sochi. And more.

Dmitry Medvedev, right, now the Russian prime minister, and sports minister Vitaly Mutko at the 2015 world swim championships in Kazan // Getty Images

Without question, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is one of the top five most influential personalities in world sport.

That short list:

Thomas Bach, the IOC president; Putin; the FIFA president, whoever that might be; Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees and a member of the FIFA executive committee; and Sebastian Coe, the recently elected head of the IAAF.

Why Putin?

When Bach was elected IOC president, in September 2013, it’s wise to remember, the very first phone call he took was from Putin.

The chairman of the 2022 IOC Winter Games evaluation commission? Alexander Zhukov, the head of the Russian Olympic committee.

There can be zero question that, as in the Cold War days, Putin is using sport — and its prestige — to advance his reputation and his nation’s standing, both domestically and geopolitically.

Either that, or you think that hosting the Winter Games, the swim and track championships and the World Cup are all just because Russia and Putin are just good sports.

So, mindful that the FSB was in on the deal, and that control in state-directed Russia can be everything, how far up the chain did the activities detailed in Monday’s report go?

Is it believable that Vitaly Mutko, the sports minister, really didn’t know?

Mutko reports to Putin. Really, neither knew?

Referring to Mutko, Pound said Monday he believes it was “not possible for him to be unaware of it.” And if he was aware, “he was complicit in it.”

Consider:

After the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Russian athletes won only three gold medals, the-then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, made a point of declaring that a raft of sports ministry officials ought to hand in their resignations, or be fired. The resignations ensued.

Medvedev, who segued back to prime minister after Putin took over the presidency again in 2012, also observed that Russia "has lost the old Soviet school ... and we haven't created our own school -- despite the fact that the amount of money that is invested in sport is unprecedentedly high."

Mutko, who has been an ally of Putin’s for years, survived.

The Russians then won the medals count in Sochi, with 33, and the most golds, 13.

A reasonable question: how did that happen?

Pound on Monday: “I don’t think we can be confident there was no manipulation” of doping tests at the 2014 Winter Games.

Monday’s report says the 2012 London Games were “in a sense, sabotaged” because athletes ran who shouldn’t have, because they were dirty. The report targets five Russian runners for lifetime bans. Among them: the London 2012 800 gold and bronze winners, Mariya Savinova-Farnosova and Ekaterina Poistogova.

They got to compete, the report said, because of the “collapse of the anti-doping system,” blaming RUSADA, ARAF and, lastly, the IAAF.

The report recommends that Russia be suspended until there is compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code.

Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, went hard Monday, saying in a statement that the “evidence released today demonstrates a shocking level of corruption,” adding, “If Russia has created an organized scheme of state-supported doping, then they have no business being allowed to compete on the world stage.”

Late in the day, Mutko's sports ministry put out a statement that said, "We are not surprised by most of the points in the report." It declared "we have undertaken measures to remedy the situation, including the appointment of a new ARAF president and head coach. It then turned on the IAAF, saying the ministry "is waiting for such measures from IAAF, where the new president also has zero-tolerance for doping."

Coe took over for Diack in August. On Monday, the IAAF issued a statement saying it would consider appropriate sanctions; such measures could mean no Russian track and field athletes at next year’s Rio Olympics; the Russians have until the end of the week to respond.

“The allegations are alarming,” Coe said. “These are dark days.”

Perhaps, then, that is what is to be done: no Russians in track and field in Rio.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, left, listens in as Russian pole vault champion and Sochi 2014 Olympic village mayor Yelena Isinbayeva, center, whispers during a visit to the Olympic village at the 2014 Sochi Games // Getty Images

Consider: Yelena Isinbayeva, the pole-vault diva and two-time (2004, 2008) gold medalist, the IOC Youth Olympic Games ambassador and Sochi Games Olympic Village mayor herself, would not get one more chance for gold.

Or perhaps Mr. Putin might not like that idea of no Russians in Rio, might not like at all the notion that Isinbayeva, a favorite, might not get the chance for a third Olympic gold.

And where would that lead?

What will be done? Who knows? Who thinks that sports and politics are, truly, separate?

We are living, in real time, in history.

Justin Gatlin, and a run for redemption

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When Justin Gatlin first got the news — this was nine years ago — that he had tested positive for the banned substance testosterone, he literally fell out of the truck he was driving.

“While we were on the phone,” his mother, Jeanette, would later testify, “all I could hear was him screaming and screaming on the other end, and how, no, no, no, no, I’m dead, I’m dead. And we were afraid that he was going to do something to himself. He was in North Carolina, and we were in Florida. You know, to — you can’t get there. You can’t keep him safe from doing whatever. He was just — he was — he was — he was screaming. He was screaming and yelling, and he was driving, and he was in his truck, and he fell out. He stopped, and he fell out, and he fell apart. He just kept on saying, ‘I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead. It’s over, it’s over, it’s — I’m dead, Mommy, I’m dead.’ ”

Justin Gatlin is assuredly not dead, and his track and field career is now the farthest thing from over. For the past two-plus years, Gatlin has been the best sprinter on Planet Earth, the fastest guy anywhere anytime. Many experts expect him not only to challenge but to defeat Usain Bolt in the 100 meters at the world championships, which begin this weekend at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing. And maybe the 200, too.

Justin Gatlin in June at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, after running 19.57 to win the 200 at the U.S. nationals // Getty Images

"That's what everyone is waiting to see," Maurice Greene, the Sydney 2000 100 gold medalist, said Friday.

Here in Beijing as a television commentator, Greene added, referring to Bolt, "How prepared is he? Because you know Justin is prepared."

That 2006 test was Gatlin’s second go-around with the doping authorities; he would end up being banned for four years. The first test came in 2001. Because the facts and circumstances of both tests have been not just under-reported but thoroughly misunderstood, Gatlin has become to many with an interest in track and field something like Public Enemy No. 1 — particularly when compared, as he often is, to the larger-than-life Bolt.

The British press in particular has been given to depicting the races here in Beijing as a clash of "good versus evil."

In March, the Telegraph, one of Britain’s leading dailies, called Bolt a “superhero.”  A few days ago, the same newspaper included Gatlin on a list of what it called “the most hated sportsmen in the world,” a “sport-by-sport breakdown of the most loathsome individuals.”

 At a news conference Thursday, Bolt was asked if he was the "savior" of track and field. He said, speaking generally, not referring to Gatlin, “People are saying I need to win for the sport. But there’s a lot of other athletes out there running clean, and who have run clean throughout their whole careers. I can’t do it by myself. It’s a responsibility of all the athletes to take it upon themselves to save the sport and go forwards without drug cheats."

Usain Bolt at Thursday's news conference // Getty Images

The curious thing is that Justin Gatlin is the farthest thing from loathsome. As Greene said, referring to both Bolt and Gatlin, "Take out everything that has to do with sports. They’re both good guys." David Oliver, the U.S. 110-meter hurdles standout, said about Gatlin, "I'm rooting for him and I hope he does well."

Gatlin comes from a strong family. His father, Willie, served with distinction for more than 20 years in the U.S. military, a Vietnam veteran, and the son wears the red, white and blue national uniform with pride. Justin Gatlin is great with kids and with track and field fans. When he got tagged in 2006, his first instinct was to cooperate with the federal government in its BALCO investigation, which he did extensively. Since coming back to the sport five years ago, he has not tested positive, and be assured that he is a marked man.

The question now is, if you allow for the very real possibility that Justin Gatlin is indeed running clean, can he run this week in Beijing for redemption?

All things are possible in sports, and particularly track and field, which for years has been bedeviled by doping. But what if -- what if -- Gatlin is, despite all the well-earned skepticism about the sport, running clean?

In his sworn testimony, Gatlin himself said, “I believe in my talent to the fullest. And I think God is trying to be, my way of showing everyone that I can do this, I can run great times without even trying to use performance-enhancing drugs.”

In an interview, he said, “I think that for so long I have shut down because of being beat upon by the media, [believing] if I say less it will go away. I’m wrong.

“At this point in time, I am trying to open up more, speak more and take it in. I am a cool guy, a nice guy. I am not trying to short-change anybody taking anything away from anyone. I welcome competition. If I get beat, I say, ‘That was a good beating.’ If I win, ‘I say that’s a good win.’ ''

The many critics of track’s doping rules say, often citing Gatlin, that two strikes should mean a lifetime doping ban. But the rules say, unequivocally, that Gatlin is allowed to run.

It's not difficult to understand why the concept of a lifetime ban might seem so appealing to so many. But theory is not real life. And it is the case that when applied to life as it is — how Justin Gatlin came to test twice — a lifetime ban would be cruelly unfair.

Those plain facts are publicly available, and sketched out in great detail, including sworn testimony in extensive transcripts from a 2007 arbitration sparked by Gatlin’s 2006 test. These documents inhabit a federal court file in Pensacola, Florida. They make it clear that:

— Gatlin’s first flunked test, in 2001, was for medication he had been taking for attention deficit disorder, a condition he had wrestled with since he was a young boy. Gatlin, at the time still a teen-ager, tried to follow the rules. Nonetheless, he came up positive.

— The second test, at the Kansas Relays in 2006, has long sparked controversy because of the assertion in Gatlin’s camp that a masseuse rubbed steroid-laced cream on Gatlin, sparking the doping positive. A reading of the record strongly suggests that story came from Gatlin’s former coach, Trevor Graham, whose credibility — amid his extensive involvement in the BALCO scandal — has to be viewed with extreme suspicion. A more likely, if unproven, explanation is that the positive test resulted from a shot or a pill described at length in the testimony.

“At the end of the day,” Gatlin said in an interview at his training base in Clermont, Florida, near Orlando, “the irony of the situation is I really do want the sport to be in a better place outside of everything that has gone on in my life.

“I look at the young guys and say, ‘I don’t want you to go through what I went through because you run fast, or run faster.’

“I want people to say he is making a difference in his sport — moving the sport along.”

Justin Gatlin has run fast for a very long time. In high school in Florida, he was a state champion sprinter. That earned him a scholarship to the University of Tennessee. There he was a multiple NCAA champion.

At the 2001 junior nationals, when he was 19, Gatlin tested positive for trace amounts of amphetamine.

The substance at issue was Adderall, a prescription medication. At age 9, in fourth grade, he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. His class had been assigned a test; Justin turned in a paper that contained a picture of a bird he had drawn instead -- the bird, on a window ledge, had captured his entire focus. A teacher suggested to his parents that Justin ought “to be evaluated.”

At UT, Gatlin was taking two summer school classes he needed to stay eligible: English 101 and Music History 350. In both classes, he had midterms the week of June 11, 2001, just before the junior nationals.

Gatlin took his Adderall to help him stay focused while studying for his midterms. He stopped taking it three days before running — why three days, exactly, instead of four or five or two or whatever, remains unclear. In the sample Gatlin gave on June 16, 2001, authorities detected trace amounts of amphetamine. A sample he gave the next day, June 17, contained even smaller amounts, consistent with Gatlin having stopped taking the Adderall on or before June 13.

The authorities and Gatlin would enter in a stipulated — meaning, mutually agreed — series of facts surrounding that test. These included:

“The course of action followed by most athletes with ADD is simply to discontinue their medication in advance of a competition. USADA,” the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, “advised athletes after consultation with their physicians to discontinue using the ADD medication prior to competition in order for the medication to clear their system.”

And:

“Mr. Gatlin neither cheated nor intended to cheat. He did not intend to enhance his performance nor, given his medical condition, did his medication in fact enhance his performance.”

The rule in doping matters is that an athlete is strictly liable for what is in his or her system.

The standard ban in those years for a first doping offense was two years.

An arbitration panel that reviewed the matter would observe:

“While Mr. Gatlin may have violated the IAAF anti-doping rules in that he did not first seek an exemption from the IAAF for his medication before he competed, he certainly is not a doper. This Panel would characterize Mr. Gatlin’s inadvertent violation of the IAAF’s rules based on uncontested facts as, at most, a ‘technical’ or ‘paperwork’ violation.”

Gatlin got two years. He then petitioned the IAAF for a reduction, citing “exceptional circumstances.” Granted. He served a provisional suspension of almost one year.

Gatlin left UT in 2002 and turned pro. He started training in Raleigh, North Carolina, with Graham’s Sprint Capitol group.

At the 2003 world indoor championships in Birmingham, England, Gatlin won the 60-meter dash.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Gatlin won the 100, in 9.85 seconds. He took third in the 200, in 20.03. He also earned a silver as part of the U.S. 4x100 relay team.

At the 2005 world championships in Helsinki, Gatlin won both the 100 and 200.

When Gatlin first connected with Graham, Gatlin’s parents were acutely concerned that Graham not only train Gatlin but, more broadly, look after their son.

“And all that was said at that time was, are you sure nothing is going to happen to Justin?” his mother would testify, recalling their first conversations with Graham.

“Are you going to make sure that he doesn’t get involved in all this other stuff,” meaning doping, “that, you know, my husband was reading about on the Internet, and I was reading about on the Internet.

“And he,” meaning Graham, “said, ‘Absolutely. That has nothing to do with us, my camp, and the way I train my athletes.”

Gatlin training under current coach Dennis Mitchell in Clermont, Florida

On April Fools’ Day 2004, a prank circulated on the web that Gatlin had tested positive.

“And actually, I was at the dentist’s office,” Jeanette Gatlin testified. “Justin was home. He had not really just located — I mean, he was home for visiting — and, anyway, my husband ran across this article on the Internet saying that Justin Gatlin had tested positive. And he called me at the dentist’s office, I went running home and he — should I say it all?”

“Go ahead,” the lawyer questioning her said.

“He was packing his gun.”

“And where was he headed?”

“He was headed to kill Trevor Graham.”

“And why was [that]?’

“Because it said Justin had tested positive, and Trevor had promised that there would be nothing like that going on in his camp. He was going to take care of Justin. And he knew, he knew that [Justin] already had that other offense hanging over him.”

“I trust you stopped him?”

“We stopped him, because … I’m saying — I’m saying, how can you go kill this man? I mean, you are going to — anyway, my husband is crying. Tears are coming out of his eyes. He’s crying. He’s ready to kill Trevor. And then Justin goes on the Internet, and he sits there, and he looks at it, and he says, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, read the bottom of it. Read the bottom of it. And the bottom of it said, April Fool’s.”

“Do you know who posted that?”

“I have no idea but we were very angry about it. And my husband was saying that — you know, they can’t be playing jokes like this with people’s lives. and then all of a sudden, somebody else may read it and believe it without going through it, like he didn’t go through it. And we never did find out who posted it …”

Track and field has a distinct rhythm to the outdoor season. Athletes build toward summer, which three years out of four brings either a world championships or Summer Games.

The Kansas Relays is an early-season fixture on the circuit, a three-day meet held every almost year (since 1923) in April.

On April 22, 2006, Gatlin ran in the 4x100 relay at those Kansas Relays with his Sprint Capitol teammates. They won, in 38.16.

On July 29, Gatlin announced to the press that he had tested positive for testosterone at the Kansas Relays.

Two mysteries relating to the 2006 test have long endured.

The first is what authorities thought they would find — that is, why bother to test — at such an early-season affair.

The second is why it took so long — three months, April to July — for the test from those Kansas Relays to become what’s called, in the vernacular, an “adverse analytical finding,” or a doping positive.

The court files explain.

From May 2004 through October 2006, Paul Scott supervised the reporting of athlete urine samples at the WADA-accredited UCLA laboratory. In that capacity, he supervised the reporting of Gatlin’s Kansas Relays sample. He would provide an April 7, 2008, sworn affidavit relating what happened:

Though the sample was provided April 22, 2006, it wasn’t until June 15 that the lab itself reported an adverse analytical finding. This nearly two-month delay was, as Scott would say, “not common practice.”

The reason for the delay?

Gatlin’s sample initially produced a negative result — meaning he apparently was clear — under what’s called the T/E ratio test, the standard test used both in- and out-of-competition to screen for testosterone. Indeed, Scott said, Gatlin’s sample was originally reported to USADA as a negative.

About one month later, USADA got in touch and requested that the lab perform what’s called a “longitudinal analysis” because, Scott said, because “they had reason to believe that the athlete was using testosterone,” adding, “I now know this athlete to be Justin.”

USADA executive Travis Tygart did not, Scott said, inform the lab of the “nature of the ‘tip’ nor the basis for his belief.”

The lab did as asked, and concluded that Gatlin is what’s called a “low-mode individual,” who — to make it simple — lacks a particular enzyme, with the effect that the T/E ratio is typically very low and does not much change if that individual is administered “exogenous testosterone,” from a source outside his body.

The lab told USADA Gatlin was low-mode. “I am not aware of whether we recommended or USADA requested that a Carbon Isotope Ratio test be performed,” Scott said, referring to a test that is both far more sensitive and way more expensive, in the range of several hundred dollars.

In June 2006, the lab performed the CIR test. Bingo. A positive test.

Why did USADA ask for the further analysis that led to the positive?

In another set of stipulated facts, the answer:

At that same 2003 world indoors at which Gatlin won the men’s 60, Michelle Collins won the women’s 200. Her 22.18 would have been an American record but it was never ratified. Instead, after being linked to the BALCO matter, she admitted using illicit substances. Ultimately, she would get a lengthy suspension.

In May 2004, Collins told USADA that Trevor Graham, her former coach, “told her to appear at track events with no drug testing and to use fast-acting drugs to avoid detection.”

She last trained with Graham in 2001, before Gatlin met up with Graham, the legal document stresses.

USADA “considered this information provided by Michelle Collins and decided to test at the 2006 Kansas Relays, an event at which it had not previously tested,” the document says.

Travis Tygart of USADA // Getty Images

In late 2005, USADA notified USA Track & Field and Kansas Relays organizers it would be testing that next April at the meet.

Gatlin was picked for testing after his relay team won first place; he had run the anchor leg. “This selection” for testing “was in accordance with USADA’s routine selection criteria for track and field relay events,” the document says.

When he was on the road, Gatlin had a reputation as the room service king.

He testified, “I have this paranoia about people messing with my food, or especially, from the first incident where I don’t like to let people do anything orally to my food, and my water, and I don’t like people touching my stuff or around me.”

On June 15, 2006, the room service king, ever careful, learned in a three-way call — with his agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, and his parents — that he had tested positive at the Kansas Relays.

Gatlin testified:

“It was a nightmare that I live again, from my first situation, and I found, I prided myself, I would never put myself in that situation again, and it happened to me again, and I remember the only thing that I kept saying over and over was that my life was over. I didn’t know what to do. I mean, because, running is, running is what I love. I love to run. And I never would do anything like that, because I know I have the support of my family and my friends.”

Jeanette Gatlin, in testimony, asked if Justin had ever said “that he knowingly took a substance”:

“Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not. He kept on saying, ‘I don’t know how this happened. I don’t know how this happened. I’m careful. I watch everything. I know one thing: I’m dead.’ That’s all my child kept saying, was that he was dead. He was dead.”

Asked what he did in the weeks between when he found out he had tested positive, and July 29, when word went out to the media, Gatlin responded, “Other than cry?”

Jeanette Gatlin was asked if the experience had taken a toll on her son:

“Most definitely. Most definitely.

“When Justin came home,” to Florida from the Sprint Capitol base in Raleigh, “before we went back and relocated him, Justin would be sleeping, you could hear him at night. You could hear him, he just uh-huh, ugh-huh, ugh-huh, you go in there and he is just jumping. He is just jumping. He is cold and sweaty, and he’s crying, and he’s breaking down, when you talk to him, in the daytime, baby, think about it, think about what happened, he just breaks down, he starts crying and he’s shaking and falling apart. He’s not sleeping at night. He’s restless, I’m going through getting up all time of night, going in there and [checking] on him.”

She also testified, “Not only has my child, Justin Gatlin, suffered and [is] still suffering, his name, his reputation. We have all suffered. We have all suffered. I have — I’m bald, not by choice. This is the haircut that anybody that knows me has never seen on me before. I have long hair. My hair was coming out in clumps. I had to go and have my hair cut off through the stress of this. I have never suffered high blood pressure before until this.

“Justin — Justin walks tall, and he’s strong, and he’s strong and he’s positive. But he — I see the hurt in him. I see how he’s just, well, can — Momma, can I buy a pair of jeans? Can I buy a pair of jeans? Do we have money? Can I buy a pair of jeans?”

Gatlin, left, lifting weights with Isiah Young

Nehemiah testified that the second test cost Gatlin “5, 6 million dollars.” Gatlin, Nehemiah said, had  grossed $1.549 million in 2005; projections in 2006 alone, the agent said, were for “anywhere from $2.5 to $3 million” in 2006 alone. Owing to the positive test, Nehemiah said, Gatlin’s 2006 gross: $280,235.

After winning 2004 Olympic gold, Nehemiah said, there had been a meeting with Gatlin, his parents and officials from both Nike and USATF, a “coming-to-Jesus talk.” He said the tenor of the conversation went like this: “OK. You are no longer Justin Gatlin. You are the United States of America. And everywhere you go, you go this great site, and everybody likes you so, you know, there’s a lot that’s being put on your shoulders.”

“Did he embrace that burden?” Nehemiah was asked.

“He embraced it, yes, wholeheartedly.”

Jeanette Gatlin continued: “You know, he’s suffering,” referring to her son. “He doesn’t know where he’s going to get another paycheck, what’s going to happen and how he’s going to continue to live.

“This,” she said, “is his life.”

Shortly after news of the positive test broke, the Escambia County, Florida, Sheriff’s Department asked if Justin could come speak to their graduating cadets. You’re aware, Jeanette Gatlin said, of the case? Yes, came the answer, she said, relating that this nonetheless was the response: “We want Justin to come. We believe in him. We have faith in him.”

He ended up speaking to that cadet class; too, to 4,000 students, high school and college, about the D.A.R.E. anti-drug program, with his mother saying “it was the biggest turnout they ever had”; to church groups — “not our church,” Jeanette Gatlin stressed — where “he spoke to them, and he read from the Bible, and he told them to obey the parents, obey the laws, stay away from drugs, keep their body clean. Keep their minds straight, keep them focused.”

Justin Gatlin spoke as well with Jeff Novitzky, the-then federal agent running the BALCO inquiry. On August 16, 2006, Gatlin met with Novitzky for five and a half hours in New York, voluntarily traveling to the meeting from Florida. At the end of that interview, Novitzky asked Gatlin to make undercover phone calls to Graham, as a means both to judge Gatlin’s credibility and to potentially gather evidence against Graham.

Gatlin agreed.

The former federal agent Jeff Novitzky // Getty Images

In all, Gatlin would make roughly a dozen calls to Graham and Randall Evans, an assistant coach. Throughout, the authorities viewed Gatlin as a cooperating witness.

Novitzky would testify as well.

This exchange, with Tygart:

“Well, did you ask him if he used any prohibited substances?

“Yes.”

“And what was his response to that?"

“His answer was no, never knowingly."

Novitzky also offered this assessment, referring to Gatlin, “Again to the best of my ability, and as I have testified before, throughout this case, I have not obtained any evidence, despite these hiccups and despite these concerns, looking back now historically, I have not obtained any evidence of his knowing receipt and use of banned substances.”

Thus the core question: what happened that prompted the 2006 positive test?

The dog-ate-the-homework theory that got advanced is that masseuse Chris Whetstine rubbed a cream containing steroids on Gatlin.

Where did this story come from?

Gatlin, in testimony, referring to Graham: “He said that he went and looked at the Internet to find out what the cream was that he thought Chris Whetstine used, and he came across DHEA,” banned as  a testosterone precursor.

A moment later, in further testimony: “He said that while Chris was applying the cream on me in Kansas that he saw a — I think he said a pink tube, a white tube and a pink squiggle on it,” purportedly made by Sarati Laboratories, “and he went back and referenced that, and he came up with DHEA.”

Asked if Graham’s “speculation” was “accurate or not,” Gatlin testified:

“It’s a very strong speculation, and I wouldn’t say it was a bull’s eye, a bull’s-eye, but I think that — it’s more of an oval-shaped peg than a square peg fitting in a circle.”

Why, he was asked, put so much weight on what Graham would assert?

“Well, to do research on it, especially doing research with my lawyer at that point in time … we researched DHEA, and some of the stuff that we learned about it, and kind of went along with the story of what happened.”

Gatlin was asked, did you see the tube Whetstine had? No.

Did you ask to see it? No.

So, “you didn’t hear about the tube with the squiggly S on it until after you had been reported positive, correct?” Yes.

“… And the only person that you heard that from was Trevor Graham, correct?” Yes.

Graham did not testify in this hearing. Nor, for that matter, did Evans.

But Whetstine did.

Referring to Graham, Whetstine said, “Well, golly, I thought I was … I mean, in 2006, I would have to say it was probably the best year in our relationship that we ever had. We would go on long walks together, talked about politics, religion, he showed an immense amount of concern for Justin Gatlin in trying to keep him on focused [sic] and on track, so that we could attain our goal."

Answering questions from Tygart:

“Do you have any knowledge of how Justin Gatlin tested positive?"

“None, sir."

“Did you apply any prohibited substances to Mr. Gatlin?"

“No, sir."

“Did you apply testosterone cream to Mr. Gatlin?"

“No, sir."

More:

“When you heard of Justin Gatlin’s positive tests, what came to your mind as the possibility of how this occurred?"

“I had no idea. I had no idea how it could have occurred."

“Did you do any introspection as to whether anything you did might have caused this?"

“Well, I knew that nothing that I did would have inadvertently caused it."

Later, in an exchange with one of the arbitrators supervising the case:

“Have you heard of Sarati Laboratories?"

“No, sir."

“Have you heard of a cream, Deep Hydrating Essential Aloe Cream?"

“Only after this investigation."

“Did you ever have any tubes that were white tubes with pink squiggles or stylized letter S's on them?"

“No. I can provide you a little insight into — I’m going to step out on a limb here, and call it Mr. Graham’s alibi. And let you know — I want to be careful, because I don’t want to be inflammatory.

“I’m a pretty big supporter of Justin Gatlin, and I don’t want to believe that Justin did anything wrong, OK?

“But in the light of the truth and fairness, where they’re concocting this story from is that my sponsor Biotone, OK? There’s a — I am given a product to distribute from Biotone, BioFreeze, to athletes and therapists; not only therapists that are under my direction, but other therapists, who would be, you know, ostensibly of some notoriety, if they were to be making a plane trip from one place to another.

“And one of the bottles that Biotone has — I think it’s called the Dual Purpose Massage Cream, a product that I don’t use. I use an oil, which I may have already described in my testimony. And this Biotone Dual Purpose Massage Cream has a pink band on it. 

“And so, somehow, they have leapt from the Prefontaine Classic," an annual track meet in Eugene, Oregon, "which is probably, I think, June 7th — some time in early June when that product first showed up for distribution to my staff, courtesy of Biotone, and something that they claim that happened months prior.

“It’s a product I don’t even use. It’s solely for distribution to my staff."

“… But you don’t know that the Dual Purpose Massage Cream that you have described contains any prohibited substance?"

“If that were the case, every athlete at the Prefontaine Classic that year would have tested positive."

“Why is that so? Because you said you don’t use it."

“Because I distribute it to 17 other therapists. I give out a goodie bag that has all Biotone and Biofreeze products, PowerBar and literature from StrongLite …"

Whetstine also testified that in May 2004, he went with Evans to a pharmacy in Monterrey, Mexico, where he — Whetstine — bought Voltaren cream, an Advil-like anti-inflammatory that is not uncommon in American track and field circles, even though it’s not typically available in the United States.

“And I would like to note at that time,” Whetstine testified, “I watched the witness Randall Evans buy pure testosterone.”

At a different point in the hearing, Whetstine was asked by another of the arbitrators to elaborate.

“You made a reference to Randall Evans purchasing testosterone in Mexico?"

“Yes."

“Do you know what he was using that testosterone for?"

“Well, he told me it was for sexual performance. I don’t care what he was using it for. I was furious. He — I was livid."

“This was in 1998?"

“No, this was in 2004, yeah, because he was in Mexico in 2003 and we went back in 2004. And as he was purchasing two packages that had 8 vials apiece. I mean, he was saying it was for topical application for sexual enhancement. And these were bottles — you know, like they have the — like a skinny neck, like a tight neck with a — like an aluminum cap? And that to me means that — that’s like what you see in the hospital. I mean, that’s something that you can inject in somebody.

“And I was furious. And as he was paying for it, I left. I wanted nothing to do with that and told him so. Made sure that I was not in the airport with him, that we left on — you know, did not arrive at the same time for our departures, called my girlfriend — actually, on Justin Gatlin’s phone, called my girlfriend, expressed that I was furious.

“And she inquired about it, and you know, I get — it does have some levity to it. She said, well, if that’s what he’s saying, honey, you don’t need any of that stuff. I mean, she was joking with me."

“So why were you furious?"

“I was extremely furious at why — you know, I was furious."

“Why were you furious?"

“He’s buying testosterone, sir. That’s a prohibited substance. I don’t want any exposure or knowledge of anything."

“So I mean, were you — did you consider that he was buying it for other athletes?"

“I didn’t care what he was doing. I didn’t want him doing it in front of me."

“When you say it’s a prohibited substance, I’m a little bit — it was legal for him to buy that in Mexico, correct?"

“I don’t know. You know, the story is you can get whatever you want in Mexico, and his wife is Spanish. He actually says his wife works for the FBI, was his claim, and she was an FBI agent and was bilingual, and so, I guess he had some lingo, but — what was the question?"

“Well, I guess I’m just trying to figure out — I’m trying to figure out why were you furious? It seems to me if he was buying it for himself, it would be OK. If he was in Mexico, obviously, he shouldn’t be transporting it across the border.”

“But if he was buying it for other people, it seems to me — especially for athletes — that would be a valid reason for being furious."

“Sir? My integrity, hard work and my word are all that I have to go on in this business. I do not want to be exposed to, have knowledge of any illegal activity, OK? And I don’t care what he’s buying it for. I don’t care what he’s buying it for. OK?"

Gatlin had long had problems with tweaky hamstrings. That was the case in the spring of 2006. HIs right hamstring was not responding.

Red blood cells take oxygen to the muscles. When the body can’t make enough red blood cells, one response is to take vitamin B12.

Taking the vitamin B12 orally was not doing the job, Gatlin testified. So he asked a doctor what to do; the doctor recommended a B12 injection directly into the hamstring itself.

It is also the case — well-known in the appropriate circles — that administering testosterone directly would help in recovery.

Who, Gatlin was asked on the record, did he talk with about the prospect of getting a B12 shot?

Graham, Evans and, as well, another sprinter who at one time was in the Sprint Capitol camp.

On April 6 or 7, Gatlin testified, he got a shot of what he believed to be B12.

At his house. From Evans. With Graham in attendance.

Whose idea was it, Gatlin was asked, to get a B12 shot? To ask the doctor about such a shot?

Graham, Gatlin testified.

“Did you — was it normal for you to get any sort of a shot by Randall Evans?”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Had you ever gotten a shot from Randall Evans?”

“No.”

“Were you concerned about getting a shot from Randall Evans?”

No, because the doctor had “explained to me,” Gatlin said, “that Randall Evans was taking classes to become more medically inclined under his wing …”

“Before Mr. Evans injected you in your hamstring,” Gatlin was also asked, “did you ask him whether he had ever injected performance-enhancing substances into any athletes?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I didn’t believe he did. It was a B12 — sitting right here, it’s a B12 shot. That’s why I was concerned about my leg. I was concerned if he was juicing up some of the athletes that I didn’t know.”

At another point in the testimony:

“… You are a gold medalist, double world champion, and you allow this person, who is learning to give injections, to inject you in your hamstring while you are injured?”

“He wasn’t a person who was learning. He was my assistant coach.”

At the same time, Gatlin also sought to depict himself as not completely trusting of Evans. Before submitting to the injection, Gatlin said, he looked at the package: “It was a white box, and it said B12, and it said ‘Vitamins’ right across the front of it. It was an unopened package. It was sealed, and so was — the needle was also sealed,” just “a regular needle.”

A B12 injection comes as a clear red liquid solution. The red is vivid.

Crucially, Gatlin was never asked whether that B12 shot was red — neither by his own lawyer or on cross-examination.

Moreover, B12 injections are typically administered via the buttocks or shoulder, areas less susceptible to pain.

The day after the B12 shot, Gatlin did testify, he took a Voltaren pill — supplied, he said, by Evans.

The pill and shot came about a week before the Mt. SAC meet in California. There, Gatlin ran a relay leg; his team took second.

A week later: the Kansas Relays.

After Mt. SAC, Gatlin testified, he felt like he was back to 100 percent.

Again, Evans did not testify. Nor did the doctor.

Novitzky, meanwhile, was on the stand for this from USADA’s Tygart: “OK. Agent Novitzky, have you — are you aware that Randall Evans has denied giving an injection of B12?”

Objections came from both Gatlin’s lawyer and from government attorneys, and the question never did get answered.

Novitzky did testify that during that five hour-plus interview, Gatlin “categorized the pill .. as a ‘Voltaren bean.’ When myself and my partner heard the word ‘bean’ used — based on our investigation to that period of time, we had heard testosterone and Decadron,” a corticosteroid, “being referred to as a ‘bean,’ so it kind of spurred our interest when we heard that.”

During that interview, Gatlin was asked to describe the pill.

Novitzky testified, “He described it as green with a V on it.”

He added, “This wasn’t an instance where we just left it. We followed up and said, ‘Are you sure that’s what it looked like?’

“He said, ‘Yeah, he was sure it was green with a V on it.’

“We came to find out later, much later, months, maybe a year later, that he told someone else that the pill was brown, and brown is the color of these testosterone and Decadron pills, so we had some concern about that.

“We actually had Mr. Gatlin, his mother and [Gatlin’s lawyer] on a phone call, and brought that to their attention. They did come up with an explanation about his confusion regarding the coloring, and that he had been taking an Excedrin, which was a green, but these Voltaren pills that he had been taking all along were brown. You know a little bit unclear, where that leaves him, you know, in the credibility issue in that department.”

Another matter of credibility, Novitzky said, related to Angel “Memo” Heredia, long believed in track circles to be a chemist of considerable repute — who, as Nehemiah related it in testimony, “was not a Trevor Graham fan.”

Nehemiah, saying he was seeking answers to how Gatlin could have tested positive, commissioned Heredia to write a report.

Ultimately, Nehemiah said, the report “wasn’t comprehensive at all,” describing it as a “waste of our time.”

The report, after much negotiating, cost $10,000. But because of an accounting glitch, Heredia got paid $10,600.

“The Memo memo,” as it came to be called, ultimately made its way to Novitzky. From the agent’s point of view, the concern was simple: the government had no idea initially that Gatlin’s entourage had retained Heredia.

“This was all unbeknownst to us,” Novitzky said. “He didn’t — we found out about this second-hand, not from them. And that was a big issue toward us, in terms of, you know, cooperation and credibility, because typically, when we’re dealing with cooperators and looking at these issues, you know, one of the issues with a cooperator is full disclosure of everything.

“And while we did get some explanation that they weren’t sure that we needed to know this, and they thought we already knew some of this, the bottom line, it was not the case that they told us this was going on when it was going on. So that was another issue that came into play.”

It might be reasonable to assume that Gatlin would — in his own case — get some benefit from cooperating with Novitzky and the feds. In fact, he got none.

The majority of the three-member arbitration panel that heard the case noted it “finds much merit in Mr. Gatlin’s position and the facts of his cooperation, which were substantiated by the pertinent government witness, supports the extensive, voluntary and unique nature of Mr. Gatlin’s assistance.”

Even so, the rule at instance was super-precise: “substantial assistance” had to result directly in an anti-doping agency “discovering or establishing” doping by another person.

Yes, Gatlin cooperated, USADA acknowledged; yes, he took considerable risk; but, no, the dozen or so phone calls didn’t lead directly to any such violation.

As far as the Whetstine theory, the panel majority said, “the fact is that there is no substantiation of Mr. Gatlin’s naked claim.” It added, “There was no evidence that any of the creams used by the physical therapist actually tested positive.”

It said, “More importantly, the evidence submitted by Mr. Gatlin did not eliminate the possibility of intentional use or the possibility that he was the unwitting victim of doping by members of his coaching staff.”

Further, “Simply stated, this Panel does not know with any degree of confidence how the testosterone entered Mr. Gatlin’s system; transdermally or by pill or injection.”

That being the case, it said, “USADA makes a strong argument. If Mr. Gatlin cannot prove how the testosterone entered his system, and he did not, he cannot prove two significant facts. First, that it was the physical therapist that placed the testosterone in his system transdermally; and second, that he did not intentionally take testosterone.”

“Finally,” it said, “while Mr. Gatlin seems like a complete gentleman, and was genuinely and deeply upset during his testimony, the Panel cannot eliminate the possibility that Mr. Gatlin intentionally took testosterone, or accepted it from a coach, even though he testified to the contrary.”

It gave him four years off.

A 2008 review by another three-member panel, this one from the Swiss-based Court of Appeal for Sport, left it at that: four years.

Those four years, Gatlin said in an interview, were miserable. He moved to Atlanta and, to make money, taught sprinting to 8-year-olds.

“One thing I learned on my journey and it’s really true, kids are the least judgmental. Kids looked at me and never brought up any incident, never questioned anything, and they said, ‘Mr. Gatlin, I am just trying to get fast like you. Teach me.' ”

There was that. But he said, “I lost every endorsement. I lost everything.”

He also said, “I was so depressed, Me, my mother and my father, we are a core. We became stronger when i went through my ordeal. Going through the ordeal broke us down. My mother lost hair. For a woman, that’s a big thing. She prayed every day to the point where she was like, what is prayer doing? Nothing is being answered! She doubted her faith.

“I would honestly say my dad was more depressed than anybody. His son carries his name and gave him the most pride, and to go through what I went through made him so depressed. He didn’t talk a lot.”

As for Justin Gatlin himself, during those four years, he said, “I think that’s where track Justin met real Justin.

“It’s not a cliché to speak in the third-person sometime. I have to tell you how I experienced it. I didn’t see any worth my life. I wasn’t running. I wasn’t being acknowledged. I was looked upon as the bad guy. I was ready to enlist in the Army. I was ready to become a police officer. This is real: if I die, if I took a bullet, at least I took it for something I believe in — America.

“I have never been a person to have suicidal thoughts. But I said, ‘What is the worth of my life? Who am I?’ That’s when I had to say: ‘There is more to Justin than just running.’ “

It was with that attitude that Gatlin came back to the sport in 2010.

He worked himself back to a bronze at the 2012 London Games in the 100, behind Bolt.

The turning point came the next year, at the 2013 worlds in Moscow. The 100 went down in a pouring rainstorm. Bolt won, again, in 9.77, crossing the finish at the precise moment lightning flashed across the sky — an incredible, indeed indelible, picture.

That frame also shows Gatlin. He is behind Bolt, and to the Jamaican’s left. Gatlin would finish second, eight-hundredths back, 9.85.

Usain Bolt winning the 2013 100 meters in Moscow as lightning flashes, Gatlin eight-hundredths of a second back // Getty Images

Sprint coach (and former champion) Dennis Mitchell

Gatlin said, “I don’t want to step out of my boundaries and my respect for other opponents [but] when I look at that picture, that’s when I said to myself, ‘I think I can beat this guy. I can challenge this guy outright.’ “ 

To do so, however, he had to submit — to his coach, Dennis Mitchell. Gatlin said he had to accept Mitchell’s word as gospel, to let technique do the work for him in his races.

Until that lightning flash in 2013, Gatlin said, he had — whether consciously or not — been trying to do it his way. From that moment on, he said, it has been Mitchell’s way.

Mitchell typically draws a torrent of criticism from those who know he, too, tested positive during his days as a champion sprinter. There’s a back story there, though. Mitchell tested positive for what he relates as inadvertent use of DHEA. But who voluntarily testified for the government in its investigation of Graham? Among others, Mitchell.

Mitchell said, "I testified under oath in front of the feds that Trevor Graham coerced me into taking growth hormone."

He also said, “When you are dealing with the federal government the first thing you don’t do is lie. Because they will get you.”

“I was a witness for the good guys,” he added. “I wasn’t prosecuted. I wasn’t threatened. I wasn’t put on trial for lying. I was a 20-minute witness for the federal government, against Trevor Graham, to tell everything about my life and his life that would incriminate him. That’s what I did. And I took a hit for the good guys.

“And I knew that when I did that, either the sport was going to herald me as a good guy or they were going to kick me out as a villain. I rolled the dice. I said,’Dennis, everything you have been through in the sport, all the great achievements you have had in the sport, the sport will not turn its back on you.’ "

Doing what Mitchell says, Gatlin has not lost since the end of 2013. This year, he has run 9.74 in the 100, 19.57 in the 200.

The American records: 9.69 (Tyson Gay, Shanghai, 2009), 19.32 (Michael Johnson, Atlanta Olympics, 1996).

Under Mitchell's direction, Gatlin has lost roughly 30 pounds; the science of sprinting increasingly has come to recognize that leg strength -- not being top-heavy -- is what counts. He also has worked in the weight room to re-make his slimmer self and at improving his start.

"I wear medium shirts now," Gatlin said of his weight loss. "A large would be hanging off."

"Any person who has watched this kid, who knows track and field, can see the technique changes," Mitchell said, adding a moment later, "2014 is the year he woke up smart. He put his mind to it and went for it."

“When I step on the track, my percentage of worrying about opponents in the race has dropped significantly,” Gatlin said. “All I worry about is executing my technique, executing my race strategy and competing against time.”

He also said, “I feel there’s a difference between being in the zone and being dialed in. I have learned that the last two years. The zone is good; a lot of athletes are in the zone. But when you are in the zone there still can come a lot of variables; you can still worry about certain opponents, about what can go wrong. When you are dialed in, you worry about one thing,” execution of race strategy, “and that one thing will handle everything else.”

As an example, he said, “If you look back at all the races I have had just this year, if you look back with a careful eye, you will see difference. From the 19.68 I ran,” a 200 last July 18 at a Diamond League meet in Monaco, “to the 19.57,” this June 28 at the U.S. nationals, "the end of my race and my last 100 meters was way more relaxed, way more turnover.

‘I wasn’t fighting my technique. I just let my technique turn over. In my 19.68 race, I was more worried about running the curve.”

In his home bathroom, Gatlin said, he has hung what he calls a “vision board,” posts of what he wants to achieve. On the board, he said, are the times 19.30 and 9.68.

“At one point in time, my vision board was names. I have changed that. Now it’s numbers. Now it opens up a different door.”

Anything is possible in track and field, which for years and years has been marred by doping, and at the highest levels. As difficult as it may be for some skeptics, indeed cynics, the matter is straightforward: to believe that Justin Gatlin is doping is to believe he does not want to go through that door.

To assume that Gatlin is cheating is to believe he would risk his new Nike deal. Mitchell, too, has a new deal, and he and his wife have a baby. The mortgage gets tough to pay when there's no income.

Beyond all that, to believe that Gatlin is doping is to say he wants to stumble back to the wilderness — lost, angry, the sort of son who would disrespect his parents, who would make his mother’s hair fall out again, who would risk the certainty of a third strike and a lifetime away from the very thing that gives him so much joy, indeed meaning, in life.

Which seems more logical? Which more reasonable?

“I found me,” Gatlin said of his four years away.

He said, “I had to step back and realize, you know, just because everyone doesn’t agree with what I am doing doesn’t mean they are against me.

“Just because someone doesn’t step up doesn’t mean they aren’t for me.”