Simon Turnbull: Merritt goes to great lengths to compete in 2012 but IOC should cut him down to size

The Way I See It: The reigning world and Olympic champion claimed the three positive drug tests he gave were due to the 'male-enhancement' product
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Click on the home page for ExtenZe and you are informed that the product is "a revolutionary herbal pill that will increase your penis size* while you are taking the product as directed". The asterisked "terms and conditions apply" rider at the foot of the page points out: "Temporary increase in size while you use ExtenZe. Individual results may vary."

There is an offer of a "risk-free seven-day trial" for a supplement that was promoted in early infomercials by Ron "The Hedgehog" Jeremy, voted the world's No 1 porn star for his performances in such classics as Orgazmo and Homo Erectus – and who, according to his entry on Wikipedia, is "noted for his large 9.75 inch (24.75cm) penis (self reported)."

It is not known whether LaShawn Merritt took up the "risk-free" trial but it is on the record that the world No 1 400m star of 2008 and 2009 has used ExtenZe. The reigning world and Olympic champion of the quarter mile went to great lengths to claim that the three positive drug tests he gave between October 2009 and January 2010 were due to the "male-enhancement" product.

Despite being an elite track-and-field athlete – and, as such, presumably mindful of the risks of ingesting any drugs – the American had apparently not been aware that ExtenZe contained deyhdroepiandrostrerone, an anabolic steroid commonly known as DHEA. Other ingredients include ginger, ginseng, velvet deer antler and horny goat weed.

"I hope my sponsors, family, friends and the sport itself will forgive me for making such a foolish, immature and egotistical mistake," Merritt said when his positive tests came to light in April last year. "Any penalty that I may receive for my action will not overshadow the embarrassment that I feel inside."

Merritt, a 24-year-old Virginian (a native of Portsmouth, Virginia, who settled in Norfolk, Virginia), initially received a two-year ban but that was reduced to 21 months in October last year. In shrinking the size of the penalty, the American Arbitration Association accepted that Merritt had no intention of using ExtenZe to enhance his athletic performance and that, although negligent in not checking the product's ingredients, he had taken the steroid inadvertently.

That left Merritt clear to return to competition from July this year – but with one significant caveat. As the sporting laws stand, he will not be allowed to defend his Olympic 400m title in London next year. In June 2008 the International Olympic Committee adopted a rule barring athletes who have served doping bans of longer than six months from the Olympic Games which falls after their return to action.

In commuting Merritt's suspension, however, the American Arbitration Association said that it considered Rule 45 of the Olympic Charter to constitute "double jeopardy" and labelled it "mere skulduggery". Thus, last week, the United States Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee announced that they had jointly asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport to give "a definitive ruling" on whether the terms and conditions of Rule 45 should be enforced.

It is, in effect, a pre-emptive strike on behalf of the United States Olympic Committee – to avert the possibility of Merritt, or any other reinstated doping offender, taking legal action should they earn a place on the US Olympic team via the national trials next year yet be barred from competing in London by the IOC rule. Memories are still fresh in American track and field of the case of Harry "Butch" Reynolds, the former world-record holder for the 400m, who disputed the validity of a drugs ban and was involved in a protracted, costly legal dispute about his eligibility to compete in the 1992 Olympics (he was eventually allowed to compete in the American trials and qualified for the US team but was not taken to Barcelona).

The British Olympic Association insist that they intend to uphold their by-law, introduced in 1992, which bars athletes who have served drugs bans not just for the one Olympic Games but for life. Thus, while Merritt could be defending his Olympic crown in London next year, the British sprinter Dwain Chambers and the cyclist David Millar can expect to be kicking their heels, reflecting on the error of their past ways.

The whole unseemly mess of drugs in sport is not something that one all-encompassing decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport is going to clear at a stroke. But surely there ought to be one rule for all reinstated drug takers across the globe. Either they should all be banned for all Olympic Games, which would be a welcome sight in London next year – or they should all be allowed to compete at every Games.

Not that the world's athletes are ever likely to stop making cock-ups on the drugs front. When the American sprinter Dennis Mitchell tested positive for excessive levels of testosterone in 1998 his defence was that he had drunk four cans of beer the night before and that he had indulged in "at least" four acts of copulation with his wife. "It was her birthday," he protested. "The lady deserved a treat."

James Corrigan is away

Comments