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Suspended Athlete Qualifies for Olympic Trials in Heptathlon

April 20, 1996

PHOENIX (AP) _ An Arizona heptathlon athlete, whose lawsuit over a drug suspension won her a short opportunity to pursue competition in the Olympics, has overcome her first hurdle.

Gea Johnson of Phoenix qualified Friday for the U.S. Olympic Trials on June 14-23 in Atlanta with a 5,787-point performance at the California Invitational-Mount San Antonio College heptathlon in Walnut Grove, Calif., 278 more than required.

Johnson, who won the NCAA heptathlon title at Arizona State in 1990, hadn’t entered any other major track competition since tearing a knee tendon at the 1992 Olympic Trials. At the time, she ranked second nationwide in the heptathlon behind 1992 gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, typically scoring in the 6,300 range.

``I won’t be happy with myself until I’m at least at 6,300,″ Johnson said.

On Monday, a federal judge granted the 27-year-old a 10-day preliminary injunction in her $12 million lawsuit against the International Amateur Athletic Federation. It allows her to compete until April 24.

The federation banned Johnson in December 1994 after she tested positive for synthetic steroids during an ``off-competition″ test conducted at her Phoenix home. The four-year ban has been upheld three times in the past 15 months, most recently during a federation appeal hearing in December.

Before Friday’s competition, the federation sent notice to the event’s director that he shouldn’t ratify the heptathlon B field performances that included Johnson’s and that the federation would consider sanctions against anyone who competed with her.

Johnson maintains she has ``never, never used steroids″ and that a flawed testing procedure allowed the sample to be mishandled between the time it was taken in Arizona and when it reached a testing center in Montreal.

The federation governs track and field. A heptathlon consists of seven events _ similar the 10-event decathlon for men _ including the 100-yard dash, javelin throw, high jump and long jump.

Johnson’s lawsuit alleges negligence, defamation, breach of contract and breach of fair dealings. The suit seeks $10 million in punitive damages and $2 million in compensatory damages. A hearing for a preliminary injunction is set for May 10.

Edwinna Ammonds was second (5,547) and Northern Arizona’s Anna Wicklund third (5,528) in the 23-woman B field. Of the five who completed the A heptathlon, Wendi Simmons posted a career-high 6,074, the only one exceeding Johnson’s score. Jolanda Jones (5,693) and Janet Bloomstedt (5,607) also qualified for the Olympic trials.

Meanwhile, with the help of her agent, Tyde Tanner of Mesa, and his college roommate, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young, Johnson has won a one-year contract demonstrating fitness equipment for ICON Health and Fitness.

That, and the amount sought in her lawsuit, are important because her suspension has damaged her modeling career and endorsement revenue ``big time,″ Tanner said.

Tanner said ICON represents about 35 percent of the world fitness equipment market.

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