LaShawn Merritt accepts provisional suspension for positive drug tests

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Merritt accepts provisional suspension

Olympic and world champion sprinter LaShawn Merritt has accepted a provisional suspension after testing positive for a banned drug.

Merritt used an over-the-counter male enhancement product that contained substances that caused him to fail three successive tests between October and January, according to a release from lawyer Howard Jacobs.

Merritt, who won gold medals in the 400 and as a member of the 1,600 relay in Beijing, said he hopes his family, friends and sponsors will forgive him for making “a foolish, immature and egotistical mistake.” He will not compete until the case has been decided.

“He has now put his entire career under a cloud and in the process made himself the object of jokes,” said USA Track & Field CEO Doug Logan, who added he was “disgusted by this entire episode.”

Merritt recently was notified that the presence of DHEA was the cause of his positive test. DHEA is short for dehydroepiandrosterone, a steroids precursor banned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

USADA confirmed that the sprinter had tested positive and had agreed not to compete until his case has been resolved. USADA said it would make further announcements after the investigation and case were complete.

The USADA process can last from weeks to months. Typically, an athlete guilty of a first-time doping violation receives a two-year suspension. USADA does have a precedent of giving more favorable terms to athletes who cooperate.

“It’s hard to say at this point what the end result would be,” Jacobs said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “But I think we can put forth a compelling case, and that it was inadvertent and the circumstances that led up to it.”

“To know that I’ve tested positive as a result of product that I used for personal reasons is extremely difficult to wrap my hands around,” Merritt said in the release. “Any penalty that I may receive for my action will not overshadow the embarrassment and humiliation that I feel inside.”

Over the years, Merritt has developed a robust rivalry with 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner, one of the best in track since no one can touch Usain Bolt in the 100 and 200.

Merritt held off Wariner for the win in Beijing. Then, last summer at the world championships in Berlin, Merritt topped Wariner again, flying past Wariner on the final curve.

AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.

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