SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Amid the sweltering heat and swirling accusations, positive drug tests and negative vibes of the U.S. Olympic track trials, the most difficult thing to figure out is who to believe.
Or whom to believe in.
Someone around here has to be clean, don't they? Someone headed to Athens can be counted on to provide to the world a positive image of America, not a positive drug test, can't they?
You never say never these days but if you are looking for a U.S. sprinter to root for (guilt- and worry-free) next month you won't find a better candidate than Gail Devers, the 37-year-old veteran who won the 100-meter hurdles here on Sunday to qualify for her fifth Olympics.
"I've been there, done that," said Devers, waving her long, golden fingernails and wearing a youthful smile. "But each time is like a new experience."
There couldn't have been a better ending to these trials than Devers. After recent doubts, denials and mounting suspicions, track needed something or someone to remind us why it remains the signature sport of the Olympics.
The swimmers can't have all the fun, can they?
The track trials were like watching 2000 presidential election coverage. Some winners await drug tests, others are appealing more distant positive tests. Stay tuned.
Torri Edwards qualified Sunday in the 200-meter dash, but Monday she faces an appeal on a positive test from last spring. If the appeal fails, she also will be bounced from the 100 meters, which, not so ironically, could by default put Devers in that race also.
Watching Edwards bask in the cheers on Sunday was part of the problem with this entire sport. Do you trust her to represent the United States in Athens?
Emanuel Hudson, Edwards' agent, hung around the press tent here on Sunday in an effort to convince us that we should, but it didn't go so well. According to Hudson, this is why after a meet in Martinique this spring Edwards had in her system the banned substance Nikethamide.
After Edwards' blood sugar level dropped, they sent her chiropractor out to a store to buy sugar cubes. The cubes he bought turned out to be "laced with" Nikethamide. "Not that we are saying the [sugar] company did anything wrong," Hudson said.
Seriously, this is the story he was selling. Someone laced a random sugar cube in Martinique with a banned performance-enhancing substance, and it happened, just happened, to be ingested by a world-class sprinter.
Aren't you reassured?
Also, track's international governing body said Sunday that the U.S. should forfeit its 4x400-meter relay gold from the 2000 Olympics because of the Jerome Young doping scandal.
And so the embarrassments go on.
Which brings us back to Devers, who never has been implicated in anything after two decades in the sport. On Sunday she thanked God, dedicated the race to her 97-year-old grandmother and thanked God some more.
She even laughed when everyone kept teasing her about her age. "She is 10 years, one month and four days older than me," laughed second-place finisher Joanna Hayes. "Just in case anyone is interested."
Said Devers with a smile, "I prefer [to be called] seasoned."
This is the part about the Olympics that is so, so important. The athletes are there to represent our country, our people, our value system. Put it this way, when you hear the term "East German woman," what comes to mind?
Worldwide opinion of the U.S. will be influenced by not just how our Olympians perform but also how they carry themselves.
This year, as much as ever, winning isn't and shouldn't be everything.
Which is why I'll take my chances with Devers, grand, classy and still with the understanding that the Olympics is not all about her. She is an ambassador in spikes.
"Once you get to the games it is about the USA," she said.
Let's hope so.
- Gail Devers
- Torri Edwards