Carl Lewis: drug accusations are 'dead issue'

Carl Lewis dismissed a demand by the manager of former Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson to give back his 1988 Olympic gold medal in the 100 metres, saying it was unrealistic.

"It's ridiculous; who cares?" Lewis said Tuesday. "I did 18 years of track and field and I've been retired five years, and they're still talking about me, so I guess I still have it."

Johnson's manager and lawyer, Morris Chrobotek, told the Sydney Morning Herald last week that he plans legal action in response to documents purporting to show that Lewis and other U.S. athletes were allowed to compete at the 1988 Seoul Olympics after failing drug tests.

"So he's going to sue hundreds of people? Would you expect him to say anything different?" Lewis asked. "It's a dead issue, it really is."

Lewis was declared the winner in the 100 metres when Johnson was stripped of his gold medal and world record after testing positive for a banned steroid. Lewis also won the long jump and finished his career with nine Olympic golds.

Dr. Wade Exum, the U.S. Olympic Committee's director for drug control from 1991 to 2000, released more than 30,000 pages of documents to Sports Illustrated last week that he says show Lewis, tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez and others tested positive but were still allowed to compete in Seoul.

The Orange County Register published a similar report, based on documents it obtained.

"The only thing I can say is I think it's unfortunate what Wade Exum is trying to do," Lewis said after an appearance at the University of Southern California.

The USOC has called Exum's accusations baseless.

Exum said Lewis tested positive three times at the 1988 Olympic trials for small amounts of banned stimulants found in cold medications. The USOC first disqualified Lewis, then reversed itself after he appealed, claiming inadvertent use.

"I don't know what people are trying to make out of nothing because everyone was treated the same, so what are we talking about? I don't get it," Lewis said. He said a different climate existed in drug testing in 1988.

"At that time, if you had an offence once, then they usually wanted to check to see what the substance was, then they gave a warning," Lewis said. "That's why there were so many people.

"Most of the names nobody knew, so it's not like they were picking people out and doping. That was the policy."

Baaron Pittenger, who was executive director of the USOC in 1988, said Tuesday that an investigation at the time concluded the level of banned stimulants found in Lewis' system - mostly ephedrine -was not significant enough to be performance-enhancing. That prompted the USOC to reverse its decision.

"The rules at the time called for us to determine intent. These levels were less than 10 micrograms per millilitre, consistent with accidental use," he said.

Pittenger noted if a test found the same levels in an athlete today, it would not even require the lab to notify doping authorities. He also said Lewis and Santa Monica Track Club teammates Joe DeLoach and Andre Phillips (who also won gold in 1988) told the USOC before the Olympics they were not taking cold medication, but were using a supplement that included the Chinese herb Ma Huang. The active ingredient in Ma Huang is ephedrine.

Lewis said there's still debate about whether stimulants at those low levels give athletes an unfair advantage. But there is no longer any question about penalties: Two years ago, the International Olympic Committee said tests finding ephedrine levels at 10 micrograms per millilitre or higher would be considered positive.

"There really is no pure evidence to show that it does something; it does nothing," he said. "Now the policy has changed. You get three months (probation) on one of these right now, and the second time you get a suspension."

The 41-year-old Lewis was arrested for investigation of misdemeanour driving under the influence after his 2004 Maserati hit a wall along a Los Angeles freeway early Monday. The California Highway Patrol said a breath test showed his blood-alcohol level was .08 per cent, a reading at which a driver is considered intoxicated in California.

Lewis repeatedly referred questions about his arrest to his publicist, who did not immediately return a phone call.