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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 10, 2004

Athletes speak out on drugs

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 •  Honolulu Marathon Events

By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i Olympian Bryan Clay knows the importance of being a positive influence, especially in the wake of allegations of illegal drug use among track and field athletes.

Hawai'i Olympic decathlon silver medallist Bryan Clay says it's important for athletes to remain role models for children.

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"We want to be role models, we want to be examples of what athletes are supposed to be like," said Clay, who won the silver medal in the decathlon at the Athens Olympics. "We want kids to look up to us. It's something we've been dreaming about since we were kids."

Clay, long jump gold medalist Dwight Phillips, shot put silver medalist Adam Nelson and U.S. high jump champion Jamie Nieto gathered at the Hawai'i Convention Center yesterday as part of events for Sunday's Honolulu Marathon.

Their manager, Paul Doyle, was also in attendance.

All spoke passionately against accusations made by Victor Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, who said he provided steroids and other banned substances to athletes.

"If I was right on the verge of trying to figure out why I did the sport and whether or not I wanted to continue the sport, I think that it definitely would have a negative impact on my decision," Clay said of Conte's comments.

He remembers his introduction to track and field at age 8, watching nine-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis win the 100-meter dash in 1988.

"He had just ran and immediately ran to his family and grabbed the American flag and ran around the track with the American flag draped around his shoulders," Clay said. "I thought it was the coolest thing. As I grew up and remembered that moment, it was then that I started to realize what was so special about the Olympic Games. We were representing something that was bigger than just you. There was a certain pride I had in that."

Bryan Clay was angered by comments made by Victor Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. "I felt like he was basically trying to paint the picture that we don't have morals," Clay said.

Advertiser library photo • Aug. 24, 2004

Conte spoke on ABC's "20/20" last Friday, saying that the use of illegal drugs is so widespread among athletes that "in short, the Olympic Games are a fraud."

"That's why I took it so personal when I heard the comments that Victor Conte said," Clay said. "I felt like he was basically trying to paint the picture that we don't have morals and we don't have any pride in our country."

Track and field athletes — including star sprinter Marion Jones and boyfriend Tim Montgomery — were thrust into the spotlight by allegations of illegal drug use with the arrival of the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Yesterday, Clay and his fellow athletes agreed that harsher penalties would likely reduce the use of banned substances.

"Jail time, I think that would make athletes think twice about doing drugs," Phillips said.

Nieto added: "The last time I checked, steroids is illegal."

They said that track and field was getting a bad rap mostly because its organization is willing to test its athletes.

"At least we are making strides to clean the sport, unlike baseball, football, basketball and hockey," Phillips said. "We are making the choice to test our athletes, making it a level playing field for our athletes."

Nieto believes that other professional sports turn the other way when it comes to checking up on their athletes.

"Every sport has their problem," said Nieto, who finished fourth in the high jump at the Olympics. "There's no reason why people should discredit us so much when basketball players and football players are kind of pushed under the rug when they are caught and tested positive.

"I believe we are making steps to make our sport a much cleaner sport, and I challenge the NBA, the NFL, to make their sports a lot cleaner.

"We've taken the steps to say that we're going to have the zero-tolerance rule, to where if you get tested positive for steroids, you're banned for life. Let's see the NBA or the NFL do that. How much money are they going to lose?"

USA Track & Field athletes face a lifetime ban if they test positive for steroids.

Nelson guessed that 5 percent to 10 percent of track and field athletes use performance-enhancing drugs.

Clay said he believes some athletes can get caught up in believing that the only way to succeed is to take performance-enhancing drugs.

"They are defined by the sports that they do," he said. "All of a sudden they have to be the best and they're going to do whatever it takes to be the best, because their whole life, their lifestyle, everything that they do is dependent on how they do in their sport. When it comes down to that, it's going to be more tempting to do drugs."

Clay worries that Conte's words will have a negative impact on future athletes.

"I don't think Victor Conte realized the consequences of the effects that are going to take place in what he was saying," Clay said. "To paint the picture that he did, there are going to be kids out there now that are going to be discouraged to enter our sport, because they're going to feel like there's no way to compete without doing drugs."

Clay hopes that sending his message to the public will impact the way America perceives track and field athletes.

"I think track and field can rebound by other athletes doing what we did today," he said. "And demanding to be heard, and demanding to be on TV, and demanding to be role models."

Reach Leila Wai at lwai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2457.

• • •

Honolulu Marathon Events

Honolulu Marathon Living Aloha Expo, Hawai'i Convention Center.

Through tomorrow

9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

• Bryan Clay and fellow Olympians autograph sessions.

With Olympic decathlon silver medalist Bryan Clay, long jump gold medalist Dwight Phillips, two-time shot put silver medalist Adam Nelson, U.S. high jump champ Jamie Nieto.

Today 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

"Legends of Running" autograph sessions, including Finland's Lasse Viren.

Also with former marathon world record-holders Steve Jones and Alberto Salazar, four-time Honolulu Marathon women's champion Patti Catalano Dillion, former middle distance great Mary Slaney, and Greg Meyer, the last American man to win the  Boston Marathon.

Today, 10 a.m. to noon

Honolulu Marathon Bryan Clay Clinic, at Kaiser High School.

With eight world-class athletes as instructors. Free T-shirts, Bubbies ice cream and Menehune water.

Features Clay, Phillips, Nelson, Nieto, 100-meter hurdler Danielle Carruthers, and three top Irish athletes: 400-meter hurdler Karen Shinkins, 110-meter high hurdler Peter Coghlan and long jumper Ciaran McDonagh.

Tomorrow, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.