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Original Issue


Late last Thursday night Dennis Mitchell found the article he
had been looking for on the Internet, the story on Mary Slaney's
suspicious drug test at last June's U.S. Olympic track and
field trials. A three-time Olympian and last year the top-ranked
American at 100 meters, Mitchell, who is also chairman of the
USA Track & Field Athletes Advisory committee, carefully
absorbed every syllable of the story and, without judging
Slaney, instantly distilled its effect. "Another hit for our
sport, another piece chopped out of us," Mitchell said later
that same night. "The only thing I can imagine that would be
worse is if something happened with Michael Johnson."

Slaney, 38, by far the most famous and successful U.S. women's
middle-distance runner ever, jump-started a career assumed to be
over when she finished second in the 5,000 meters at the trials
to qualify for her fourth Olympic team. However, a drug test at
the trials showed that Slaney had an abnormally high ratio of
testosterone (a male sex hormone that also stimulates bone and
muscle development) to epitestosterone (a hormone with no known
physiological benefit), a figure that alerts officials to the
possible use of performance-enhancing drugs. The acceptable
ratio is 6 to 1; a source familiar with Slaney's test told SI
that her level was 10 to 1. Slaney's lawyers do not dispute that
her level was above 6 to 1, but they do dispute that she was
using any banned substances.

To understand the perilous state of track and field in the U.S.,
consider that there are two possible truths in the Slaney case,
and both are disastrous for the sport.

Let's say Slaney is clean. No drugs. The test in question merely
revealed a normal fluctuation in a woman's
testosterone-epitestosterone ratio (T-E), as her lawyers have
argued. Then what the keepers of the sport in America have done
by failing to settle the case swiftly and in anonymity is to
lynch a U.S. superstar. "It's like being accused of child
molesting," says Alberto Salazar, one of Slaney's coaches. "Just
[the story's being leaked to the media] is enough, even when
it's not true." And USA Track & Field has laid the testing
system bare, exposing it as hopelessly incompetent: Not only
doesn't it catch cheaters, but it also taints the innocent.

Let's say Slaney is dirty. Let's say she was using anabolic
steroids or some other drug to help a small, oft-injured body
endure the rigors of training at an advanced athletic age. The
path of suspicion is clear, if one wishes to follow it. Slaney
was too old and, after 19 operations, too surgically scarred to
suddenly run faster than she had in four years. Salazar, himself
a distance-running legend, admits he tried pharmacological
remedies late in his own career, experimenting with the
corticosteroid prednisone in an attempt to revive his deficient
adrenal system and winning a 54-mile race in South Africa while
taking the antidepressant Prozac. If Slaney--the light-striding
former Mary Decker who burst into prominence, pigtailed and
flying, at age 14--is dirty, then who can be clean? It's as if
the golf world suddenly discovered that Tiger Woods isn't a
human being but a cyborg.

We may never know the truth. Slaney's allies and lawyers insist
that a low epitestosterone level--which they say can be brought
on by a variety of factors ranging from consumption of liquids
to menstruation--skewed her ratio. They further argue that
Slaney's results fell within the acceptable range on three
subsequent tests. One drug-testing expert agrees with the Slaney
camp's theory on the fluctuation of T-E ratios and says the
results of her later tests make her defense plausible. "My gut
feeling is," he says, "that those three tests should tell you
the trials test was an aberration." But another testing expert
says, "Those clean tests work against her argument because they
establish [her ratio in those three tests] as her natural ratio.
So what happened on the day of the trials?"

There's more. Slaney's lawyers dispute the merits of any T-E
testing, on the grounds that women's ratios can be
unpredictable. Indeed the drug test of another woman, 400-meter
hurdler Sandra Farmer-Patrick, also showed a high testosterone
level at the trials; last weekend the Sunday Times of London
reported that USA Track & Field has decided to ban
Farmer-Patrick for four years. The complexity of the issue has
left the cases in a baffling state of limbo. "It throws into
question the entire process," says U.S. distance runner Lynn
Jennings, a three-time Olympian. USA Track & Field has declined
comment on unresolved drug cases.

Track and field, with its measure of speed, strength and
stamina, should be the purest of all sports. Yet it has become
submerged in the process of finding out who is clean, who is
dirty and, even more, how to find out how to find out.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Mary Slaney running]