LONDON – The association of two medal-winning American track athletes with a coach banned from the sport for doping is raising questions at the Olympics.
After winning medals Wednesday night, sprinter Carmelita Jeter and hurdler Jason Richardson were asked about their ties to Mark Block, an agent, event manager and former coach who's currently serving a 10-year ban for his role in the BALCO drug scandal.
The questions came from reporter Weldon Johnson of LetsRun.com, a website that covers track and field and has written about Block's recent presence at major track meets – including the U.S. Olympic Trials last month.
[ Video: Carmelita Jeter flies to silver in 100 ]
There was discernible tension in the room when Johnson posed his questions, yet both athletes gave Johnson an answer and neither backed away from their relationship with Block.
LetsRun.com ran the following transcript of the exchange with Jeter:
Johnson: "Carmelita, Mark Block has said he has been following you around this year. Can you talk about the relationship you have with him and what sort of message you feel it sends to associate with a man banned from the sport?"
Jeter (after a seven-second pause): "I'm going to count to 10, only because I'm up here, I just won a bronze medal for the United States of America. I am a woman that has a medal in the 100 and 200 now. For me to be asked about my relationship with someone bothers me, but you can ask me anything else other than that but I will answer you.
"Mark Block is a close friend of mine. He's a very close friend of mine and I love him dearly. Whatever happened with Mark Block before I came to Mark Block has absolutely nothing to do with me. I love that man. I love his family. I love his daughter. And I don't know how some people are raised but I was raised to always be friends with someone and to have loyalty with people.
"And if he got in trouble for whatever he got in trouble for that does not mean I still do not care for him, that does not mean I do not still consider him a close friend of mine because that is exactly what he is. Now, yes, he was banned for the time you said. That does not mean that he cannot be of management. He cannot be an agent. He comes to meets that I am at, because he is a great supporter of mine. That's why Mark Block comes to things you might see me at because he loves and cares about not only me but other athletes that are a part of Total Sports. Did that answer your question?”
Johnson's question to Richardson came after the 110-meter hurdles formal press conference had ended, so it was not in front of a full room of media members. But the give-and-take was similar to that with Jeter.
Johnson: "What sort of message do you think it sends associating with Mark Block?"
Richardson: "I just want to take a second." (Pauses)
Johnson: "You are free to associate with him, but I'm just asking the question what do you think that sends? He's supposed to be banned from the sport. I asked Carmelita the same question."
Richardson: "I'm sure Carmelita gave you the response she felt was true to herself, but I will say to you that everybody makes a mistake. I don't know the exactly the details of Mark's mistake. I know Mark made the mistake completely before I met him. I will say Mark has never gone outside of any lines of friendship. Now if you choose to determine who I'm supposed be friends with by all means feel righteous enough to tell me what to do. … So have fun and continue on with your life, but Mark is cool with me, and I've tweeted that I've never failed a drug test. … "
In fact, neither Jeter nor Richardson has failed a drug test.
Block is a former college track coach who was registered with the IAAF as an agent from 1997-2009 with Total Sport, the company where another agent, Chris Lane, currently represents both Jeter and Richardson.
In 2009, USA Track & Field revoked Block's status as an authorized agent and will not credential him for any of its meets for the duration of his ban, instituted by a panel of the American Arbitration Association.
In 2011, the U.S. Anti-Doping Association (USADA) issued a release discussing Block's ban from the sport. It stated in part, "The sanction was imposed for Block's participation in the trading and trafficking of prohibited substances including 'the cream' and 'the clear,' as well as inciting and assisting others in the use of those substances.” USADA said Block was in direct communication with BALCO mastermind Victor Conte about procuring and administering performance-enhancing drugs, and attempted to mislead USADA and the AAA panel about the facts of the case.
[ Photos: U.S. medal winners ]
Also in 2001, Block's wife, former Ukranian sprinter Zhanna Pintusevich-Block, was charged by USADA with using the stimulant modafinil, provided by her husband, and she is currently serving a two-year doping suspension.
Still Mark Block has been present at several major meets since his ban, and LetsRun.com reported that Block spent time in Nike's pavilion at the U.S. Olympic Trials. He is believed to be in London for the Games, where Jeter has won a silver medal in the 100 and bronze in the 200, and Richardson won silver in the 110 hurdles.
Despite those red flags, USATF spokesperson Jill Geer told Yahoo! Sports that track's governing body in America cannot tell its athletes who to associate with.
"We do not have it in our authority to control the activities of others," Geer said. "When we can enforce a ban, it is only on that individual."
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