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Feds Chime In on Pan Am Drug Case

August 5, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Whether it’s muscle-building steroids or a street drug like cocaine, athletes who use banned substances should face the same sanctions, anti-drug experts said Wednesday in the wake of sport’s latest scandal.

Authorities said the case of Javier Sotomayor, the Cuban high-jump star who tested positive for cocaine at the Pan American Games, contained elements similar to that of Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who was thrown out of the 1988 Olympics for steroid use.

``The Ben Johnson thing clearly underscored the magnitude of the steroid problem and the use of performance enhancers,″ said Dr. Gary Wadler, a Long Island, N.Y., researcher who had studied and written about doping in sports. ``The Sotomayor situation shows again that athletes are susceptible to the foibles of the world, and cocaine poses a serious problem to our society.″

In Washington, the White House drug office said all doping cases should be viewed in the context of using illicit substances in an area that demands fair play and high standards.

``Cocaine is a devastating drug that destroys lives and the people who use it,″ said Bob Weiner, a spokesman for Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the federal drug policy director.

While refusing to discuss the Sotomayor case specifically, Weiner said any test that finds an athlete using banned substances for whatever reason ``emphasizes the need for concerted action against drugs in sports.″

He noted that McCaffrey has pressed the International Olympic Committee for strong, consistent anti-doping measures, such as year-round drug testing and an independent agency to police doping worldwide.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist and the only person to high jump 8 feet, Sotomayor was the biggest name athlete to flunk a drug test since Johnson tested positive for the steroid Stanozolol at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.

Johnson was stripped of his gold medal in the 100 meters and his world-record time of 9.79 seconds was erased from the books.

Wadler said there was an important difference between the cases of Sotomayor and Johnson. While the sprinter took steroids solely to boost performance, ``there is little evidence to suggest that cocaine has a performance-enhancing effect,″ he said.

Nevertheless, Wadler said, organizations draw up lists of banned drugs for reasons other than what the substance can do to performance.

``There is the performance-enhancing aspect, the role-model aspect and the health aspect,″ he said. ``An organization must known what it wants to do with its list before placing a substance on that list.″

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