Until proven otherwise, I like to believe the best about people.
This past May, I emceed a luncheon at which an engaging young man named Justin Gatlin was the featured attraction. He came to Indianapolis to help promote locally based USA Track & Field's national championships, and he arrived in our town within hours of tying the world record in the 100 meters. I couldn't have been more impressed with Gatlin, wrote glowingly about him in this column, and encouraged attendance at the championships, which took place in June at IUPUI.
Last month, as I do every July, I followed with great interest the Tour de France. After seven straight victories, Lance Armstrong had retired, and I was eager to see who would pick up the mantle. It turned out to be another American, Floyd Landis, who had a wonderful back story (came from a family of Pennsylvania Mennonites; needs to have hip replacement surgery) and provided one of the most incredible single-stage rides in Tour history. Like those of the cancer-surviving Armstrong, Landis' eventual victory resonated with inspiration.
As I said, I want to believe the best in people ... until proven otherwise.
Now I fear that proof.
I fear that both Gatlin and Landis will be proven-without question-to be cheats, young men like so many in seemingly ever increasing numbers who will seek whatever edge they can to achieve success.
Last week, of course, both athletes became the latest poster boys for all the wrong reasons in their respective sports, which need-desperately-to get past the unrelenting suspicion that no result, no victory, can be trusted.
First it was revealed that Landis had tested positive for abnormal amounts of testosterone in his system (a test taken following that amazing stage ride in the French Alps). Then came the second blockbuster-that Gatlin also had tested positive for excess testosterone following a competition last April.
Landis was emphatic in his denials. Gatlin was, too, though it was later alleged by his coach that the sprinter may have been victimized by a massage therapist with a grudge who, without Gatlin's knowledge, rubbed him down with a testosterone-laced lotion before a competition last April. Of course, it can't be overlooked that Gatlin's coach has had numerous athletes who have had doping issues in the past.
I don't pretend to really know either Landis or Gatlin. I've never met the former, and I've spent only about 90 minutes with the latter. That's woefully insufficient to measure integrity or veracity.
Yet, I certainly sympathize with the guilty-until-proven-innocent limbo they find themselves in. In the court of public opinion, they've been tried and convicted. In the rush to judgment, the public dismisses the possibility that neither man knowingly violated the anti-doping rules.
Landis' case makes no sense whatsoever. He was tested for illegal substances no fewer than six times during the tour and was clean on each and every one. But on the day of his astounding ride that catapulted him from 11 th to third and essentially sealed his Tour de France triumph, his post-race urine sample revealed the abnormally high amounts of testosterone. As this is being written, we await the results taken from the "B" sample of his urine. If it confirms the results of the first sample, he could be suspended and stripped of his Tour victory.
At any rate, can you get a one-day boost from testosterone? Even if that's true, why would Landis risk it when he had to know he was going to have to pee in the cup? Did he think he could beat the drug testing system? At first, Landis claimed the positive result may have been from normal biological circumstances, but then The New York Times reported-quoting an anonymous source with supposed knowledge of the test-that analysis has shown synthetic testosterone in his system.
As for Gatlin, he certainly didn't appear to be a cheat, either. If anything, he has been outspoken against dopers.
Time will reveal the veracity of Landis's and Gatlin's protestations of innocence or perhaps provide a plausible explanation of sabotage.
In any case, I really, really want to believe that something occurred here that was beyond their control.
Then again, once upon a time, I really, really wanted to believe in Santa Claus. Bottom line, it's another sad day for cycling, track and sports in general.
Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.