Three of the biggest sprinters in track and field, including the American Tyson Gay, on Sunday revealed that they had tested positive for banned substances, a new embarrassment for a sport that has seen dozens of doping violations in recent years.
Gay, the top American sprinter over the past decade and a former world champion, said Sunday that he had tested positive. Asafa Powell of Jamaica, the former world-record holder in the 100 meters, said he, too, had failed a drug test. And Sherone Simpson of Jamaica, part of the country's Olympic gold medal winning relay team, also tested positive, according to her agent.
The flurry of revelations was a particularly dramatic example of the challenges athletics officials face in stamping out doping from the world's biggest stages. Doping in track and field has been particularly vexing.
With races determined by fractions of a second, runners have long looked to any advantage - banned or not - to seek an edge. The prize of international fame, and the riches that come with it, have created a cat-and-mouse game that shows no sign of slowing down.
On Sunday, Gay acknowledged that he was one of the elite athletes using a banned substance.
"I don't have any lies," Gay told The Associated Press on Sunday. "I don't have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake.
"I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down," he said, fighting back tears. He added: "I will take whatever punishment I get like a man. I do realize and respect what I put in my body and it is my responsibility."
He promised to be honest with anti-doping officials "about everything, everybody I've been with, every supplement I've ever taken, every company I've ever dealt with, everything," he said.
Both Gay and Powell said they would withdraw from the world championships taking place next month in Moscow.
The third sprinter, Simpson, has also tested positive for a banned stimulant, her agent, Paul Doyle, told the AP on Sunday. Simpson won an Olympic gold medal in the women's 400-meter relay in 2004 and a silver in 2012. Powell, the Jamaican Olympian and former 100-meter world-record holder, acknowledged Sunday that he tested positive for Oxilofrine, a banned stimulant. In a statement on Twitter, he said that he did not know how he ingested the drug.
"I have never knowingly or willfully taken any supplement or substances that break any rules. I am not now - nor have I ever been - a cheat," he said. "I am reeling from this genuinely surprising result."
The three athletes join a long list of runners who carry asterisks next to their name. Several of the Olympic 100-meter champions, including Ben Johnson, Linford Christie and Justin Gatlin, have served drug suspensions.
Veronica Campbell-Brown, a two-time Olympic champion at 200 meters, was provisionally suspended in June while anti-doping officials ruled on a positive test for a diuretic. A year ago, sprinter Debbie Dunn withdrew from the U.S. Olympic track team after a positive test result at the Olympic trials. The American sprinter LaShawn Merritt, who was the 400-meter champion at the Beijing Olympics, served a 21-month ban levied in October 2010 after he failed drug tests that he claimed came from over-the-counter sexual-enhancement pills.
But perhaps the highest profile American runner caught doping was Marion Jones, the women's 100 and 200 champion from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, who was stripped of the five medals she won in Sydney and served time in a federal prison after lying about having taken performance enhancing substances.
Gay, 30, a soft-spoken sprinter from Lexington, Ky., was supposed to represent a new day. He was the United States' best hope of catching Usain Bolt, the fastest sprinter in the world.
He was also one of a handful of athletes to sign a special "My Victory" pledge sponsored by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that declared, "The only sport I believe in is clean sport, sport that is free of all cheating, including doping."
Gay won three gold medals at the 2007 world championships in Osaka, Japan, beating the then world-record holder Powell in the 100, and Bolt in the 200.
Gay holds the American record in the 100-meter dash, running it in 9.69 seconds. He ran the three fastest 100s of anyone in the world this year.
He said he tested positive from a May 16 test and will have a backup sample to confirm the results soon. He declined to say what substance he tested positive for, and his representatives did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Some might see the doping violations as the latest indication that the sport still does not have a grip on the issue. But independent anti-doping experts say the frequent doping violations in track and field and cycling are a reflection of those sports' rigorous testing protocols. The same incentive to cheat exists in other sports, but positive tests might not be as common because testing procedures might not be as stringent.
The Jamaicans' positive drug tests are likely to draw fresh scrutiny to Bolt, the world-record holder at 100 meters and 200 meters. Bolt has long denied taking banned substances and, earlier this month told reporters that he was clean, saying, "I welcome people to test me every day if necessary to prove it to the world."
In recent years, a failure to test positive has not necessarily been proof that an athlete did not dope. Neither Jones nor Lance Armstrong, who won seven straight Tour de France cycling titles, tested positive, and each long denied ever doping. Both later admitted to having used performance-enhancing drugs.
In an attempt to rid the sport of doping, track and field officials recently turned to a sophisticated testing system dubbed the biological passport, similar to what is used in cycling. Instead of testing for specific substances, the program monitors athletes' blood profiles over time to find variations that could indicate the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
In March, track and field's governing body said that it was investigating 17 possible doping cases uncovered by the biological passport program. IAAF officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
USADA issued a statement Sunday in response to Gay's interview, saying it "appreciates his approach to handling this situation and his choice to voluntarily remove himself from the competition while the full facts surrounding his tests are evaluated."
One of Gay's coaches, Lance Brauman, said that he was devastated by Gay's positive results.
"Tyson and I go back a long way," Brauman said. "I take him at his word that he will be open and honest about the whole situation."
Brauman served time in federal prison on charges including making illegal payments of federal work-study money and falsifying his athletes' academic records, including Gay's.
Brauman said that neither he nor anyone affiliated with his team was the person Gay mentioned who betrayed his trust.
Gay said he awaited the test results of his "B" sample and the specifics of his case remained unclear.
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