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Why Tyson Gay scandal is not Marion Jones all over again

Top US sprinter Tyson Gay acknowledged that he has tested positive for a banned substance, rocking the track-and-field world. But the news also points to how much has changed in antidoping.

By Staff writer / July 15, 2013

US sprinter Tyson Gay attends a news conference for the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in this 2011 file photo. Gay confirmed this weekend that he has tested positive for a banned substance.

Matt Dunham/AP/File

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Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, and ... Tyson Gay?

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This weekend, the holder of the American record for the fastest 100-meter time in history – a man who has repeatedly cast himself as an antidoping crusader – confirmed that he has tested positive for a banned substance. Two other prominent Jamaican sprinters, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, also acknowledged (personally or through an agent) that they tested positive for oxilofrine, a banned stimulant.

Taken together, the revelations are being cast as one of the darkest days in track and field, comparable to Johnson being stripped of his 1988 100-meter gold medal for testing positive for steroids or to Jones being stripped of her five medals from Sydney, also for using steroids.

One of the most influential American Olympic journalists, USA Today's Christine Brennan, summed up the mood in the sports world when she wrote Monday: "Mark it down: July 14, 2013, the day that the once-revered sport of track and field took another step closer to not being worthy of our trust, or our time."

But is that the only way to look at it?

To be sure, Gay's positive test is a blow. He had run the three fastest 100-meter times in the world this year and was seen as a serious threat to beat Usain Bolt in the World Championships next month in Moscow.

Moreover, Gay was supposed to be one of the good guys.

In 2008, he was a part of Project Believe – a US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) program in which participating athletes agreed to submit to antidoping testing even more rigorous than the Olympic standard in a bid to show that they were clean. Even now, he is a signee of USADA's "My Victory" pledge, which states: "The only sport I believe in is clean sport, sport that is free of all cheating, including doping."

Yet even in his positive test, there are suggestions that this dark weekend for track and field is perhaps not quite as dark as those that came before.

Gay has not yet disclosed what substance caused the positive test, but some reports suggest it could be the same stimulant linked to Jamaicans Powell and Simpson, oxilofrine. If so, that could be significant. It would further confirm the sense that the sport's hardest drugs have been effectively culled out of the system and that today's dopers are being forced merely to tinker on the edges.

Former World Champion sprinter Ato Boldon told USA Today that athletes don't take serious substances – steroids, hormones, blood doping – for fear of getting caught, so they use something less effective.

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