Following gold medal wins in the 400 meters at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and at the world championships in '09, U.S. runner LaShawn Merritt looked set to rule the event for years to come. Then in April '10 he was suspended, and later banned for 21 months, for a series of positive tests for the steroid precursor DHEA—which he said he'd inadvertently consumed in the male-enhancement product ExtenZe. Merritt was also barred from next summer's London Olympics because of the International Olympic Committee's Rule 45, which, in a show of Hammurabian force against doping going into the Beijing Games, was instituted to bar any athlete who had received a doping ban of longer than six months from competing in the next Games, even if the ban had expired.
With the support of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which felt that the ban was unfair because it went beyond the agreed-upon sanctions of the World Anti-Doping Code, Merritt appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Last week the court invalidated Rule 45, clearing Merritt, 25, to defend his title in London.
While the IOC was disappointed in the ruling, most agents in the fight against doping were not. Because Rule 45 was separate from the World Anti-Doping Code, it contained no provision for lessened punishment for athletes who cooperate with antidoping efforts. Says Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, "It had a net negative effect." The decision may also open the door for British sprinter Dwain Chambers, who was penalized for his BALCO involvement, to appeal the British Olympic Association's own lifetime Olympic ban for dopers.
The IOC has said that it will seek to add Rule 45 to the world code in 2013. "If we want to increase penalties, we support that," Tygart says, "but let's do it inside the system."