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Jarrion Lawson, Olympic long jumper, cleared of doping in tainted beef case

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For nearly 19 months, American long jumper and sprinter Jarrion Lawson went to practice each day not knowing when he would compete again as he appealed a lengthy ban after eating what he maintained was contaminated meat.

Effective immediately, the 25-year-old with Olympic aspirations has been cleared to return.

Paul Doyle, the agent for Lawson, told The Associated Press he was notified by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Friday that Lawson was exonerated of the doping offense. The details of the decision are expected to be released next week, Doyle said.

Doyle added that Lawson was awarded around $10,000 to help offset his legal fees.

After hearing the news he was eligible to race again, Lawson’s first response was this: What time is practice?

“I’ve been training for 19 months,” Lawson said in a phone interview. “I’m excited to show the world what I’ve been doing.”

The last time Lawson competed was July 22, 2018, at a Diamond League meet in London, where he finished third in the long jump.

Doyle said Lawson ate what they believe to be tainted beef at a Japanese restaurant in Arkansas before a drug test on June 2, 2018. Lawson was notified on Aug. 3 that he tested positive for a metabolite of the banned anabolic steroid trenbolone. The substance is frequently used in the U.S. to promote the growth of beef cattle. It also formed part of a steroid mixture used by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Ever since, Lawson has been trying to clear his name.

Lawson had a credit-card receipt from the restaurant on the day he purchased a beef bowl. However, being notified two months later of a positive test made it difficult to obtain samples of the meat. Doyle said they had the beef supplier’s information and that the company did use trenbolone.

The low point for Lawson was last spring, when the Athletics Integrity Unit rejected his appeal and he was staring at a four-year ban.

“That hit me hard,” said Lawson. “I got to a place where there was nothing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to practice. It was hard to eat. But I just re-tuned myself and told myself I was going to control what I could control and stay dedicated.”

Lawson & Co. took their case to CAS and had a hearing Nov. 21.

Lawson was sleeping Friday morning when he received a call from his coach, Travis Geopfert.

On the line was Geopfert, Doyle, Global Sports Advocates attorney Paul Greene and Lawson’s parents.

“My lawyer just said, ‘I’m going to keep it simple: We won,’” Lawson said. “I was in shock mode. I didn’t know how to feel.”

In a statement, Lawson later added his frustration: “Through this process I have uncovered some major flaws in the doping control process and some unethical people within the system. I intend to pursue recourse for self-redemption, but also, and more importantly, so that this never happens to a clean athlete ever again.”

Doyle expects Lawson’s shoe sponsor, Asics, to come back on board and for meet directors to allow him into competitions given the no-fault ruling.

This was a decision Doyle thought would be reached long ago.

“Once we were first notified, to us, it was so blatantly obvious that this was a meat contamination situation,” Doyle said. “It’s amazing all that’s happened between then and now. Ultimately, this ended up how we thought it would. Any rational, logical person would’ve thought the same thing.”

These days, Lawson rarely eats beef, only chicken. He’s leaner than before. He’s ready to be a factor at the U.S. Olympic trials in June and, if things go right, at the Tokyo Games.

That’s why he’s been training sometimes twice a day in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Lawson’s been a rising standout since he burst on the scene a few years ago. During his last season at the University of Arkansas in 2016, Lawson became the first man since Jesse Owens in 1936 to win the 100, 200 and long jump at the same NCAA championships. That summer, Lawson nearly captured Olympic gold in the long jump, but missed out on the top spot when he grazed the sand with his fingers just before landing. He finished fourth.

In 2017, he took second at the world championships.

He played it coy when asked what sort of times he’s running at practice these days.

“Just say I’m running fast,” he said. “I’ll save it for the Olympics.”

And how far is he jumping?

“I’ll give you this: I’m in the best shape of my life,” Lawson said.

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Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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