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David Epstein: Top Track Coach Gets Eight-Year Suspension

An arbitration panel has handed a prominent track coach a lengthy ban after deciding he encouraged a top sprinter to use prohibited substances.

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Image from Flickr via Citizen59

By David Epstein
By arrangement with ProPublica

A panel of arbitrators on Wednesday banned Jon Drummond, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist and U.S. track and field coach, from the sport for eight years for his role in sprinter Tyson Gay’s use of a banned substance. In May, ProPublica revealed the role of Drummond and an Atlanta chiropractor in Gay’s positive test.

In its twenty-four-page decision, the panel said “the evidence demonstrates that Drummond both transported and delivered to Tyson Gay a product that contained DHEA, a prohibited substance that was disclosed on the label of the product.” The American Arbitration Association North American Court of Arbitration for Sport panel handles disputes related to doping in Olympic sports.

Drummond, forty-six, is one of the most prominent figures in American track. He was a recent chair of USA Track and Field’s Athletes Advisory Committee, which helps disseminate information—including about anti-doping procedures—from the sport’s governing body to athletes. Few coaches have faced such a serious sanction related to an athlete’s use of banned substances.

The short ban was derided by other track athletes, but is indicative of anti-doping authorities’ desire to pursue coaches and support personnel rather than just athletes.

“Coaches have an inherent responsibility to protect athletes, not take advantage of them” said U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart, in a statement Wednesday.

Drummond did not return a phone message requesting comment.

Because of his cooperation with the investigation, Gay, who ran the fastest 100 meters in American history, only received a one-year ban. The short ban was derided by other track athletes, but is indicative of anti-doping authorities’ desire to pursue coaches and support personnel rather than just athletes. Gay has already returned to competition.

The association decision lays out the sequence of events leading up to Gay’s failed drug test.

As described previously by ProPublica, in a story co-published with Sports Illustrated, Drummond was introduced to self-proclaimed anti-aging specialist Clayton Gibson in late 2011 via sprinter Marshavet Hooker, who in turn had been introduced to Gibson by her then-boyfriend, NFL running back Willis McGahee. McGahee was one of a number of NFL players working with Gibson, who is also a chiropractor. Gibson sent Hooker creams listing banned substances, and, according to the arbitration decision, Drummond told her not to use them. Nonetheless, he would later refer Gay, then one of his athletes, to Gibson.

After Gay competed in the 100 meters at the Olympic Trials in 2012, he complained of nagging pain below his groin, and expressed frustration that he could no longer compete free of pain. According to the arbitration decision, Drummond says he told Gay: “Well, the only thing we got left is Dr. Gibson‚ made a phone call to Dr. Gibson while Tyson sat right there.”

ProPublica reported previously that the creams were labeled illegally and the owner of the company that sells them could not explain them.

In the middle of the Trials, Gay and Drummond flew to Atlanta to meet Gibson. Gibson provided West Coast Bio-Topical creams that clearly listed ingredients banned in Olympic sports, like testosterone, human growth hormone, and the testosterone precursor DHEA. ProPublica reported previously that the creams were labeled illegally and the owner of the company that sells them could not explain them. “I don’t understand it either,” he said, when asked why the creams list prescription substances and use cryptic and illegal labeling practices.

Gibson assured Gay and Drummond that the creams were “all natural,” the decision said. Gibson also told Gay and Drummond to ignore the labels, because they were merely for marketing to non-athletes and did not accurately reflect the contents of the creams. According to the arbitration decision, “Drummond agreed, at the hearing, that by making that statement Dr. Gibson ‘pretty much’ admitted that he was engaged in misrepresentation.”

When asked at the hearing why he let the transaction continue, Drummond said that Gibson presented himself as someone trustworthy who was “a deacon of his church, and all of this other kind of stuff.”

Another professional athlete who worked with Gibson told ProPublica that he regularly cited his church work when confronted about possible illicit substances. According to the decision, despite his reservations about the creams, Drummond removed the labels and transported the creams to Monaco for a training camp prior to the 2012 Olympics.

According to Gay’s testimony, in Monaco, Drummond told him to use the creams and let him know how he felt afterward.

Another world-class sprinter, Trinidadian Kelly-Ann Baptiste, who was in Gay’s training group, also consulted with Gibson and also failed a drug test last year. She testified that Gay had told her that he used the creams for a few days in July 2012, and then became nervous and threw them away while traveling in Germany. Gay testified that Drummond told him it was fine to throw the creams away, but that he should continue to get to know Gibson.

Gay testified, “that’s when he gave me my program and that’s when he told me to take this cream.

The arbitration decision points out that Drummond was repeatedly inconsistent as to whether he did or didn’t throw any of the creams away himself.

Lauryn Williams, an Olympic gold-medalist sprinter and a silver medalist in bobsled this year, also testified, and said she informed Drummond that there is no such thing as natural HGH creams. The decision notes that Drummond was responsible for selecting the U.S. 4×100-meter relay team for the London Olympics, and that he picked Gay knowing that he had used the creams. The team won the silver medal.

After the Olympics, Drummond again helped Gay get in touch with Gibson. According the decision, Gibson showed Gay blood tests that he claimed demonstrated improvement, and asked whether Gay trusted him now. Gay told Gibson he did, and, Gay testified, “that’s when he gave me my program and that’s when he told me to take this cream.” At that point, Gay testified, he started taking everything Gibson gave him, supplements and creams.

In early 2013, Gay tested positive for an anabolic agent. He was handed a one-year ban starting on June 23, 2013. Gay admitted to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that he had used the creams in July 2012, before he tested positive, and agreed to forfeit his silver medal and other results and prize money. According to USADA’s analysis of the creams, they contain the banned substance DHEA.

David Epstein covers energy and environment issues as well as sports science. Prior to joining ProPublica, he was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, where he co-authored the 2009 report that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez had used steroids. His science writing has won a number of awards, including the 2010 Society of Professional Journalists prize for science reporting for a story on the genetics of athletic performance. (He is author of the New York Times bestseller, The Sports Gene). He was a 2011 Livingston Award finalist for stories on perceptual skills and pain in sports. Prior to SI, David was a crime reporter at the New York Daily News and a reporter at Inside Higher Ed. He has master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism from Columbia University, and has lived in the Sonoran desert, on a ship in the Pacific Ocean, and in the Arctic.

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