Former World Champion Sprinter Tyson Gay Tests Positive for Doping

American sprinter Tyson Gay is the latest athletic star to test positive for performance enhancement drugs. Gwen Ifill talks to USA Today's Christine Brennan for more on why athletes continue to dope despite the number of professional careers and reputations tarnished by revelations of drug use.


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GWEN IFILL: Now: new revelations on doping in sports and the fallout for one of America's best track and field runners.

The 30-year-old American sprinter Tyson Gay was off to a great start this season after being plagued by injuries in recent years. But on Friday, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, USADA, notified Gay that he had tested positive for an unnamed banned substance in May.

Gay broke the news himself.

In an Associated Press telephone interview, he said:

"I don't have any sabotage story. I don't have any lies. I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down."

It was quite an admission from the former world champion who previously subjected him to enhanced drug testing as part of USADA's My Victory program.

 

Gay talked about competing clean during a My Victory promotional video in 2008.

TYSON GAY, sprinter: I really believe in fairness, and, besides that, my mom would kill me.

GWEN IFILL: Gay's is the biggest U.S. track name linked to doping since Marion Jones tearfully admitted in 2007 to using performance-enhancing drugs.

MARION JONES, athlete: And so it is with a great amount of shame that I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust.

GWEN IFILL: It was also reported this weekend that five Jamaican athletes had failed drug tests, including Asafa Powell, a former world record holder in the 100-meter dash, and Sherone Simpson, an Olympic relay gold medalist.

Last month, another Jamaican gold medalist, Veronica Campbell Brown, tested positive as well. All three have denied cheating.

As for Tyson Gay, he has withdrawn from next month's world championships in Moscow and today he lost his Adidas endorsement deal.

For more about Tyson Gay and the issues this raises, we are joined by Christine Brennan, a sports journalist and columnist for USA Today and ABC.

Welcome back.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: Thanks, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: So, how big a blow is this to track and field?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Oh, I think it's huge.

Tyson Gay was known as Mr. Clean. This is a man who went on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Web site, Gwen, and said, I am clean. If I'm not, my mother will kill me.

Well, mom is not happy today, obviously. He went and professed that he is one of the athletes to trust and believe in. He is 30 years old. His whole career has been about this.

And now he has tested positive. It is a devastating blow for the sport, a sport that's already been reeling over the years from Ben Johnson in '88, Marion Jones 10 years ago, and now this. And you really wonder if it is kind of taking and pushing the sport into oblivion.

GWEN IFILL: How about the U.S. track and field in particular? I want to separate that out from what we also heard is happening with Jamaican runners.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Right.

Well, USA track and field has really never been the same after some of the scandals, even though Ben Johnson was Canadian. But you can remember the days -- sports fans certainly can -- when track and field athletes would be on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" three, four, five times a year many.

The names Marty Liquori and Jim Ryun, milers. The Penn Relays were a big deal. This is lore and legend of another generation. But it was a big-time sport. And it has fallen so far. And I think it's really, other than cycling, a sport that has been hit the hardest in the United States and around the world, but U.S., because of the steroid scandals.

If you can't -- if you're looking at a footrace and if you can't trust eight men or eight women running in a footrace, what can you trust? And then why should you watch?

GWEN IFILL: Well, you mentioned cycling. How does this compare to what we saw unfold slowly, painfully over years with Lance Armstrong?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Great question, obviously different issues, because here you have got the one huge name, Lance Armstrong, who lied for years, who also transcended his sport because of his work in the cancer community.

GWEN IFILL: Right.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: So, he was an icon, a cultural icon, not just a sports icon. Tyson Gay that is not that, is not Lance Armstrong.

But I think there's a similarity there. People looking at cycling and saying, why am I watching this? How can I trust this? When you have got all those years of -- and when Lance is kicked out and no one can take the top spot because they all cheated too. And you almost wonder if track and field is there.

GWEN IFILL: What is the punishment for Tyson Gay?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: If he is found to be guilty, a two-year ban, and then it would be lifetime after that, so first offense, two years and second -- now, there can be mitigating circumstances. And we don't yet know if there was a supplement that was tainted.

But the bottom line is he's responsible for what's in his body.

GWEN IFILL: And has said as much. He has said he is not going to lie about this.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: And that is admirable.

In the midst of this terrible turn of events for him and for his sport, he has been honest and said -- at least we believe he's honest -- saying, hey, I'm not going to point fingers. I'm not going to say I was sabotaged. I did this myself. I trusted someone.

Bottom line on Tyson Gay or any athlete, Gwen, is they have to know what they put in their body. It is inexcusable to take a substance and not know the contents. You can call the 24/7 800-number from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and ask about any chemical at any point.

GWEN IFILL: You cover a lot of this, Chris, and you must know after all the years of watching these, people rise and the disappointments, that a lot of sports fans look at this and think, who do I trust? What do I trust anymore? What is the answer to that question?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: It is a great question, because the testing in the Olympic world is the toughest going.

So while we talk about baseball and the problems there, and looming scandal and looming suspensions with the Biogenesis saga there, we talk about other sports that don't even have as stringent testing as the Olympics or baseball, you say at least Olympics have tough testing, and then you see this.

And the reality is Marion Jones never failed a drug test and she is sadly one of the worst cheaters of all times, and Lance Armstrong never failed a drug test. It's hard to look people in the eye and say, what can you trust anymore?

I would like to say swimming. I would like to say you could trust Missy Franklin, you could trust Michael Phelps. But we all know, as we live here, we were not born yesterday, that you start to wonder. I'm not saying Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin, but you start to wonder about anything just because of the nature and the level.

Bad chemists, Gwen, are way ahead of the good chemists in this case.

GWEN IFILL: Business as usual now for elite athletes to dope?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: It seems like, as I said, bad chemists way ahead of the good chemists, the sense that there's designer drugs that we haven't of, that the authorities haven't even begun to test for because they don't know they exist that these athletes might be taking.

It's a very sad -- this is a devastating blow when Mr. Clean, the guy who stood up there and said I am clean, now has tested positive, and the Jamaicans as well.

I would like to say there are some positive aspects or hope, but tougher drug testing has to be the answer and athletes who finally decide they can't cheat anymore.

GWEN IFILL: So disappointing.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: It is.

GWEN IFILL: Christine Brennan, USA Today and ABC, thank you so much.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Gwen, thank you.