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Sprinter Gatlin gets 8-year ban from track

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Justin Gatlin of the U.S., here competing in the 100 meters at the Qatar Grand Prix in Doha, Qatar, has avoided a lifetime penalty by agreeing to accept an 8-year ban from track and field.

Justin Gatlin of the U.S., here competing in the 100 meters at the Qatar Grand Prix in Doha, Qatar, has avoided a lifetime penalty by agreeing to accept an 8-year ban from track and field.

Associated Press

Sprinter Justin Gatlin agreed to an eight-year ban from track and field Tuesday, avoiding a lifetime penalty in exchange for his cooperation with doping authorities and because an earlier positive drug test was deemed an honest mistake.

He will forfeit the world record he tied in May, when he ran the 100 meters in 9.77 seconds. At age 24, the lengthy ban is less than the maximum penalty, but could still knock Gatlin out of competition the rest of his life.

Gatlin tested positive in April for testosterone or other steroids, five years after his first positive test, which was for medicine to control attention-deficit disorder. Since that first test, Gatlin has positioned himself as a champion of drug-free competition in a sport dogged by scandal.

Under the World Anti-Doping Agency code, a second doping offense calls for a lifetime ban. But Gatlin reached a compromise with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which levies doping penalties in America. Under terms of the compromise, he can still appeal to an arbitration panel in the next six months to have the term reduced.

He cannot, however, argue that the test was faulty.

"To his credit, it's recognition that the science is reliable," USADA general counsel Travis Tygart told The Associated Press. "Instead of wasting a bunch of resources attempting to create smoke where there's not any, he's acknowledging the accuracy of the positive test, and in exchange for his agreement to cooperate, we've recognized the nature of his first offense."

The first offense occurred while Gatlin was in college. He stopped taking the ADD medicine a few days before competition, but it did not clear his system. He received a two-year ban for that test, which was reduced by a year because of the "exceptional circumstances" of the offense.

"The nature of Gatlin's first offense for use of his medication puts this violation in a unique category," said USADA chief executive officer Terry Madden.

Gatlin has said he didn't know how steroids got into his system this time.

One of his attorneys, John Collins, said Gatlin would spell out his case at the arbitration hearing. He would not discuss strategy.

"The last time this happened, he went to the panel and explained he neither cheated nor intended to cheat," Collins said. "This time, we'll explain the full stack of circumstances and everything around it and, hopefully, we'll get a similar result."

He said the circumstances "indicate he deserves something far less than eight years, if anything."

Collins wouldn't confirm the argument would be based on claims by Gatlin's coach, Trevor Graham, who has contended Gatlin tested positive after a vengeful massage therapist used testosterone cream on the runner without his knowledge. Graham has been involved with at least a half-dozen athletes who've received drug suspensions and has been barred from U.S. Olympic Committee training sites.

The head of USA Track and Field called Gatlin's case "a setback for our sport."

"While we are glad Justin has taken responsibility for his positive test and will cooperate in USADA's anti-doping efforts, we are sorely disappointed in him," USATF chief executive officer Craig Masback said in a statement.

USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth, meanwhile, said the penalty can be a positive.

"Since becoming an elite-level athlete, Justin has talked about the importance of eradicating doping in sport," Ueberroth said. "By acknowledging his doping positive and agreeing to work with USADA, Justin now has an opportunity to put those words into action. He can play a meaningful role in solving a problem that is reaching a crisis level in American sport."

USADA looks at this as a significant compromise — and the arbitration process could bring Gatlin back much sooner than eight years.

USADA has a history of offering leniency to those who help in its fight against doping. Though the agency doesn't name names, Gatlin could possibly help USADA by providing information on Graham, who has denied any direct involvement with performance-enhancing drugs.

"He accepted liability," Tygart said. "He agreed not to raise technical arguments or frivolous defenses. He has an opportunity to go to a panel of arbitrators and argue exceptional circumstances."

In this case, the exceptional circumstances could be that he was sabotaged, or has no idea how the steroids entered his system.

And if that defense doesn't work, Gatlin's willingness to cooperate could also be viewed in a positive light.

Graham's attorney, Joe Zeszotarski, released a statement supporting Gatlin.

"As Trevor has stated publicly, he completely supports Justin Gatlin and Justin's cooperation with USADA and efforts to get reinstated," Zeszotarski said. "Trevor knows he has done nothing wrong in his relationship with Justin or any of his athletes, and only wants the truth to come out."