Brewing drug scandal casts shadow over super night
Dazzling wins by Freeman, Johnson thrust drug scandals aside
Aboriginal Cathy Freeman warmed the hearts of a nation and scored one of Australia's greatest victories of the Sydney Olympics on Monday when she won the 400 metres in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
It was the first Olympic gold in athletics for Australia since the 1988 Seoul Olympics but her victory meant much more than that.
Since lighting the Olympic cauldron in the opening ceremony the shy but outspoken 27-year-old has become a potent symbol of reconciliation between white and black Australians.
Her win unleashed a tide of Australian emotion and eclipsed a devastating 400 metres win by U.S. giant Michael Johnson that cemented his reputation as one of the greatest athletes of all time.
Johnson, who outclassed the field, added the gold to his unprecedented double in the 400 and 200 at the Atlanta Games. He has 13 Olympic and world medals, all of them gold.
But a brewing drug scandal threatened to cast a shadow over a superlative night of track and field at the Games after sensational allegations against U.S. athletics.
The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) said world shot champion C.J. Hunter, the husband of 100 metres gold medallist Marion Jones, had tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone.
Hunter, 31, pulled out of the Olympics before the start of the Games, citing a knee injury.
Perhaps even more damaging, Olympic medical chief Prince Alexandre de Merode told reporters that five American athletes had competed at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul despite failing dope tests beforehand.
He said American officials had never passed on the results to the IOC.
Asked if he felt a cover-up had taken place, he said: "Yes, certainly."
The IAAF's top anti-doping official, Arne Ljungqvist, claimed last week that U.S. athletics chiefs had failed to explain 15 suspicious drug tests among their athletes in the past two years.
The developments could not have come on a worse day for the Sydney Games but the quality of the evening programme was so good and Freeman's victory so famous that they pushed the new drug scandal into the background.
Freeman, who ran in a full bodysuit on a cool night at the track, had been the red-hot favourite since reclusive French defending champion Marie-Jose Perec fled Australia last week, citing media harassment.
Freeman carried an enormous burden of pressure and expectation on her shoulders and there were fears this would overwhelm her and lose her the race as she ran to the thunderous roar of a record 112,000-strong crowd .
The pressure showed after her victory when she sank to the track and sat for several minutes lost in contemplation before doing a victory lap carrying the Australian and Aboriginal flags.
In other athletics action Romanian Gabriela Szabo won the 5,000 metres, Mozambique's Maria Mutola took the 800 and Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie retained his 10,000 metres title after the tightest of finishes with Kenyan Paul Tergat.
NIGHTMARE OF SCANDAL
The Olympics have been repeatedly scarred by drugs since 1988 when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids after winning the 100 metres in Seoul.
Ever since, a drug scandal has been the constant nightmare of Games officials.
The latest allegations not only contaminate track and field but taint Hunter's wife Jones by association, creating new problems for her as she continues her quest for an unprecedented five athletics golds.
The IAAF said the case would be investigated by the American governing body, U.S. Track and Field.
Hunter later issued a statement through American broadcaster NBC saying: "I know what's going on and I am aware of the allegations and am going to defend myself vigorously."
In a statement reflecting the hopes of all Olympic organisers, IAAF general secretary Istvan Gyulai told reporters: "At the moment we cannot say this is a doping case. At this stage what we can say is that he tested positive.
"We do not say he is guilty. We don't want this to be the major story of the Olympics. We have sport here."
As the U.S. case developed, there was more confusion over the stance towards doping in the worst affected sport, weightlifting, which has been the subject of a series of roller-coaster rulings during the Sydney Olympics.
On Monday the sporting world's top court ruled that Bulgarian weightlifter Alan Tzagaev could take part in the Games and that a ban on the entire Bulgarian weightlifting team lacked a legal basis.
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