Athletics: Toth and Jacobs testify over Balco

Two American track and field competitors were among the first group of athletes to testify to a grand jury probing a California lab that supplies nutritional supplements.

Two American track and field competitors were among the first group of athletes to testify to a grand jury probing a California lab that supplies nutritional supplements.

The shot putter Kevin Toth and Regina Jacobs who competes in the 1500m testified on Thursday with the grand jury now expecting to hear from baseball players such as Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, several NFL football players and the boxer Shane Mosley.

Jacobs and Toth have been customers of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or Balco, which is the target of the probe. Both have also tested positive for the new designer steroid Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) - which was also found in the samples of the British sprinter Dwain Chambers - that has been linked to Balco.

"Regina was here. She did nothing wrong," said the attorney Douglas Schwartz . "I really feel sorry for these athletes, because they've really become the victims here."

An appearance before the grand jury, or being subpoenaed to testify, does not imply any of the athletes is a target of the probe. Federal officials have refused to discuss the scope of the grand jury or its secret proceedings. But a source familiar with Thursday's daylong proceeding said the athletes were asked whether they had taken THG or the endurance-boosting hormone EPO.

The source, who requested anonymity, said the athletes were asked whether they had obtained THG or EPO from Balco. An attorney for Victor Conte, Balco's founder, said his client is innocent of any wrongdoing.

The source also said the athletes were asked whether they had knowingly purchased steroids from Balco, or whether they thought they were buying legal nutritional supplements.

Jacobs and Toth were among four US athletes who apparently tested positive for THG at the US track and field championships in June at Stanford University. Jacobs, who won her 12th national outdoor title in the 1500m at those championships, would not comment after her testimony. Neither would Toth, who has the longest throw in the world this year and won his first national title in June.

Balco was raided by the Internal Revenue Service and local drug agents in September and Conte has now been accused by the US Anti-Doping Agency of supplying athletes with the designer steroid.

Chambers, who admits he tested positive for THG during an out-of-competition test on 1 August in Germany, said through an attorney that he was assured by Conte the supplements he was given were within international rules.

Meanwhile, the United States could lose their 400m-relay World Championship gold medal after a second drug violation by Calvin Harrison.

Harrison tested positive for the stimulant modafinil at the US track championships in June. The penalty for stimulants is a public warning and disqualification from the event where the test took place - but no ban.

However, in 1993, Harrison tested positive for the stimulant pseudoephedrine at the US junior indoor championships and was suspended for three months which would make the June violation his second offence. The second offense for a mild stimulant is normally a a two-year ban which would have made Harrison ineligible for the World Championships.

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