Athletics: Gatlin is banned for eight years after 'deal'

Justin Gatlin agreed to an eight-year ban from the sport yesterday, avoiding a lifetime penalty in exchange for his co-operation with the doping authorities and because of the "exceptional circumstances" surrounding his first positive test.

Gatlin will be stripped of the world record he equalled in May, when he ran the 100 metres in 9.77sec.

The American sprinter tested positive in April for testosterone or other steroids. In making the agreement with the US Anti-Doping Agency, Gatlin can still appeal to an arbitration panel in the next six months to have the ban reduced. However, he cannot argue that the test was faulty.

"To his credit, it's recognition that the science is reliable," said the USADA's general counsel, Travis Tygart. "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 co-operate, we've recognised the nature of his first offence."

The sprinter's first offence came while he was in college and tested positive for banned medicine which he was taking to control attention-deficit disorder. He received a two-year ban for that test.

Gatlin claims he does not know how steroids got into his system. His coach, Trevor Graham, who has been involved with at least six athletes who have received doping suspensions, has alleged that Gatlin tested positive after a massage therapist used testosterone cream on the runner without his knowledge. Gatlin's attorney did not, however, use that claim in his defence.

Under the World Anti-Doping Agency code, a second offence calls for a lifetime ban. At the age of 24, an eight-year ban would probably end Gatlin's competitive career. The USADA looks at this as a compromise - and know the arbitration process could bring Gatlin back much sooner. Tygart said: "He has an opportunity to go to a panel of arbitrators and argue exceptional circumstances."