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Through his agent, LaShawn Merritt said he hopes his family, friends and sponsors will forgive him for making "a foolish, immature and egotistical mistake."

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

According to Thursday's release from lawyer Howard Jacobs, the U.S. runner used an over-the-counter male enhancement product that contained substances that caused him to fail three successive tests between October and January.

Merritt said he hopes his family, friends and sponsors will forgive him for making "a foolish, immature and egotistical mistake." The 400-metre runner will not compete until the case has been decided.

USA Track & Field CEO Doug Logan said in a release he is "disgusted by this entire episode."

"He has now put his entire career under a cloud and in the process made himself the object of jokes," Logan said. "In this day and age, a professional athlete should know better."

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

USADA officials did not immediately return an email left by The Associated Press seeking comment.

The USADA process can last from weeks to months. Typically, an athlete hit with a first-time doping violation receives a two-year suspension and forfeits any results from the time when he doped.

USADA does have a precedent of giving more favourable terms to athletes who co-operate.

"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 American Jeremy Wariner.

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