11:00 AM CDT, August 30, 2011
LaShawn Merritt showed the world Tuesday he is one of the favorites to win the 400-meter gold medal at the 2012 Olympics.
Now it's up to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to decide whether Merritt can run in London, from which he currently is banned.
If it rules against him, sport's "Supreme Court" will concede that the International Olympic Committee is above the law.
That's the situation after Merritt came back from a 21-month doping suspension to win the silver medal behind Grenada's Kirani James in the 400 at the World Track and Field Championships in Daegu, South Korea.
"It's a sweet medal,'' Merritt said after clocking 44.63 to James' 44.60. "I got No. 2 at the world championships without a lot of races."
To be exact: just one, July 29, in the 23 months before this worlds, where his participation was uncertain until early July. Yet Merritt showed the determination to keep his head down and train to regain most of the form that had earned him gold medals at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 worlds.
In a first-round heat, Merritt ran the fastest time in the world (44.35) this season. But his race rustiness was apparent in start reaction times that were by far the slowest in every round.
Merritt is banned from the London Summer Games because the IOC's panjandrums don't concern themselves with things like double jeopardy, equity and the doping code to which they subscribe.
Here are the basics of the complicated case:
*Merritt tested positive three times from October 2009 through January 2010 for an anabolic steroid contained in a male enhancement product, ExtenZe, he admitted to using. Under the World Anti-Doping Code, that called for a 24-month ban.
*In a ruling last October on a Merritt appeal, the American Arbitration Association reduced the ban to 21 months, saying the runner accidentally took the banned substance and made a "painful and humiliating confession'' about the source of the drug.
*But, under the holier-than-thou IOC rule Rule 45 passed in June, 2008, Merritt cannot compete at the next Olympics because he received a doping ban of six months or longer. The AAA said that constituted double jeopardy, since it effectively gave Merritt a 34-month ban, but it did not have final jurisdiction in that part of the appeal.
*The U.S. Olympic Committee and the IOC agreed in April to ask CAS for a ruling on the matter well before the 2012 Olympics to avoid messy and costly legal problems at the 11th hour. CAS has heard the case; a decision is expected in September.
As recently as last week, IOC President Jacques Rogge contended disingenuously the issue is "not a matter of sanctions, but it's a matter of eligibility."
That's apparently how one does the hocus-pocus to turn a two-year ban into what could be a six-year ban as it relates to the Olympics.
USA Track & Field allowed Merritt to use the worlds wild card he had earned as defending champion even though he did not meet the stipulation of competing at this year's national meet -- because the ban did not end until after nationals. That showed common sense (and, yes, probably the desire to avoid a lawsuit.)
The IOC actually showed common sense in a similar case involving U.S. swimmer Jessica Hardy, who also could have been banned from London because of her one-year drug ban following a July 4, 2008 positive. The IOC will let Hardy compete in London because it decided -- arbitrarily, like most IOC decisions -- there was little chance she knew of Rule 45, since it was passed just three days before she tested positive.
(How's this logic: ignorance of a banned substances in a supplement was no excuse for Hardy; ignorance of the law was.)
There is no such loophole to allow the IOC to look magnanimous toward Merritt, who has served the requisite sentence for his doping crime.
That leaves it up to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to render justice -- which boils down here to simple fairness - by siding with Merritt.
To rule otherwise would make CAS appear to live in the pouch of the IOC's kangaroo court.
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