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SUSPICIOUS TIMING

The 2000 Summer Games in Sydney may go down in history as one of the Olympics most marred by failed drug tests. They also demonstrate the need for athletic organizations to make the results of drug tests public immediately. That would prevent the leaks of information that appear to be timed to do the most damage to athletes -- innocent or otherwise.

One of the more unfortunate incidents of the Sydney Games involved Marion Jones, the gold-medal winning sprinter. Her husband, C.J. Hunter, the 1999 world champion in the shot put, tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone at a track meet in Oslo, Norway, on July 28. Hunter had withdrawn before the Games started, saying he couldn't compete after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

He vigorously denied intentionally taking steroids, saying he didn't know how he could have tested positive four times. Regardless of how the banned substances ended up in Hunter's blood, the timing of the revelation that he had tested positive is, to say the least, worthy of note.

There's some speculation that the International Olympic Committee just got sick of relentless criticism from the U.S. Congress, White House, corporate sponsors and news media about the corruption in the Salt Lake City bidding scandal and inadequacies in drug testing.

For the past few weeks, members of the IOC have been pointing the finger right back at the United States. They've more than hinted at the possibility of covered-up drug tests by the American track and field officials, according to the New York Times.

Craig Masback, chief executive officer of USA Track and Field, the sport's governing body here, told this page from Sydney that there has been speculation that International Olympic Committee authorities leaked the information about Hunter in an effort to embarrass the United States. Nobody has produced proof of that, and in any event, U.S. track officials may have to clean up their own house before complaining about other organizations. The results of Hunter's drug tests should have been made public long before the Olympics. That would have made them a non-story in Sydney.

The International Amateur Athletic Foundation requires that positive results of drug tests be announced immediately. Arne Ljungqvist, the foundation's medical chief, also said that any athlete who tests positive for banned substances should be suspended immediately, something that doesn't happen in the United States.

We're aware of the confidentiality issues. But we're also aware that these are athletes who have chosen to perform before the world. If they fail a drug test, that information ought to be made public immediately. If it's a false positive, that should also be announced immediately.

The Olympics is not the time for these revelations to burst upon the scene. And they wouldn't if the information was made public at the time of the tests.

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