Athletics: Gatlin gets ban reduced but will still miss Olympics

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Justin Gatlin had his doping ban reduced yesterday, but not by enough to make him eligible to defend his Olympic 100m title this year. The 25-year-old sprinter had a potential eight-year ban reduced to four, retroactive to April 2006, which means he will still be on the sidelines for the Beijing Olympics in August. He needed the ban reduced to two years to be eligible in time for the Olympic trials next June.

In 2006, Gatlin tested positive for a banned substance for the second time and, under anti-doping rules, should have received a lifetime suspension. But because of the circumstances behind his first positive test he was taking medicine to treat attention-deficit disorder he reached an agreement with the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that called for a maximum eight-year ban.

The agreement called for Gatlin not to argue that the second test was faulty, but gave him the right to seek a further reduction through arbitration. Gatlin received the reduction because of help he provided USADA in its case against track coach Trevor Graham. Gatlin reportedly met Jeff Novitzky, the lead investigator into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroid investigation, and made calls, including at least one in Novitzky's presence, to Graham who faces charges of lying to federal investigators.

Gatlin, who held himself up as a role model for clean competition before his positive test, claims he does not know how steroids got into his system before the test in April 2006.

Graham has accused Oregon massage therapist Chris Whetstine of rubbing a steroid cream on Gatlin to trigger the positive test, but Whetstine has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Gatlin's arbitration hearing before a three-member panel overseen by the American Arbitration Association was held in July and was not open to the public. It was more like a sentencing hearing than one about the merits of the case, and the result is in line with USADA's policy of being more lenient with accused and convicted dopers who are willing to help the agency catch others.

While it seemed sure that Gatlin would end up with less than an eight-year sentence, the magic number was really two years. Under the decision expected to be announced this week, it is conceivable he could remain in competition four more years for the London games.

Gatlin shared the record of 9.77secs with Jamaica's Asafa Powell, though Gatlin had his name removed from that record after his positive test. Since then, Powell has improved on the record, finishing in 9.74 secs in September.

lBritain's Kate Reed pushed the world 5000m silver medallist Vivian Cheruiyot all the way as she finished runner-up in the Vallecona Sao Silvetre New Year's race in Madrid.

The Kenyan clocked 31min 50sec in the 10km contest, two seconds ahead of Reed, with Spaniard Marta Dominguez third in 32min 27sec.