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Dopey Bid 

A close, unflattering look at San Francisco's prospective Olympic Games dance partner

Wednesday, Sep 13 2006
It's fair to say our mayor has taken up with sleazy types in the past. Secretive moneybags behind favored development deals, and behind campaign hit pieces, are a couple that come to mind.

Recent federal court filings suggest sleaze emanating from another mayoral consort. He'd be wise to show her the door.

I'm referring to the United States Olympic Committee, whose officials Mayor Gavin Newsom hosted last month on a San Francisco sniffing tour to evaluate the city's potential for a 2016 Olympics bid.

Filings this week in a Denver case suggest that the U.S. Olympic Committee may have pledged money to a former anti-doping czar to suppress what some believed to be information about a possible performance-enhancing drugs coverup spanning 16 years.

The filings say the USOC is near a settlement with Wade Exum, who served as the Committee's former anti-doping czar from 1991 to 2000. Exum sued in 2000, and again in 2005 alleging the USOC's anti-doping efforts were so insincere as to be fraudulent.

The proposal for a settlement, announced Sept. 8, comes when the case could have been on the verge of exposing a long-secret database reputed to contain the names of athletes who tested positive for banned performance-enhancing substances at Olympic trials between 1984 and 2000, yet may still have been allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. Salvaging the USOC's reputation is crucial now that the Committee's considering a bid for the 2016 games, with San Francisco as a potential locale.

Attorneys for Exum and the USOC did not return my calls for comment.

Parties enter secret lawsuit settlements for all sorts of reasons. And it's possible Exum agreed to settle because he realized he simply didn't have the goods to proceed.

But previous filings in the Exum case — and in an unrelated case in Dallas that contained testimony about Olympic doping — suggest it's possible that the Committee may have settled in order to keep the public from knowing about how it handled a decade and a half's worth of doping cases. The settlement was timed to immediately precede a Sept. 11 deadline when Exum was required to respond, with arguments and evidence, to a USOC request that the case be dismissed. The reputed 1984-2000 doping database was described in filings as the case's most important piece of new evidence.

Before I back up and explain the intricacies of the years-in-the-making Denver case, and describe the blockbuster news the USOC may have wished to keep secret, I have words for Gavin Newsom.

The 2016 Olympics would make great arm-candy for San Francisco.

But the U.S. Olympic Committee, which would be San Francisco's partner in hosting the games, may have acted like a sleazy trollop. She's more embarrassment than she's worth.

The potential for Olympic-sized scandal coinciding with San Francisco's 2016 bid, and the potential motivation for a coverup, has roots that go back years, and are contained in a voluminous court file in Colorado. Until Sept. 8, the case seemed on the verge of producing a long-secret database showing that the U.S. Olympic Committee may have systematically abetted and covered up the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs by participants.

Last Friday, however, Exum's lawyer filed papers asking that court proceedings be halted, because both parties had agreed to settle. As of Sept. 11, a Denver magistrate was considering the request to halt proceedings.

Wade Exum is a medical doctor who served as the anti-doping czar of the American Olympic movement from 1991 to 2000, replacing a former USOC medical director, Robert Voy, who had left claiming an Olympic coverup of extensive use of banned doping products by U.S. athletes.

Exum resigned in 2000 and filed suit claiming he'd been promised the opportunity to clean up doping-plagued Olympic sports, but was stymied by USOC bureaucrats. Portions of his litigation have dragged on to the present because the initial 2000 suit contained two claims; the first, that he was rebuffed in his efforts to carry out his job because he was black, and second, that Olympic officials were more interested in protecting, rather than exposing, U.S. athletes who cheat using performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids, stimulants, and hormones.

A federal judge dismissed Exum's racial discrimination claims.

But until Friday a court was accepting pretrial motions regarding Exum's fraud claims.

In 2003, when the racial discrimination version of Exum's lawsuit was dismissed, he handed over documents to Sports Illustrated showing that 18 U.S. Olympians had tested positive, yet been allowed to compete.

Rumor has long existed that the USOC possessed another, more complete list, known as the "Joan Price" file, named after a former assistant to Exum, who had previously said she had a copy of the 1984-2000 doping log. The USOC has long denied the existence of such a document. But the Committee's lawyers have nonetheless gone to great lengths in an attempt to keep this phantom log from ever becoming public.

This spring Exum's attorney subpoenaed Price to ask her about the log, tallied on a computer spreadsheet correlating drug test results to athletes. USOC attempted to suppress the subpoena, arguing that the doping log didn't exist, and therefore there was no point in asking for it. Hedging its bets, the Committee also argued that even if the database did exist, it would contain no information not already released during Exum's previous racial discrimination case.

A judge was unconvinced. And earlier this summer the Denver court rejected the USOC's efforts to keep the phantom log secret, paving the way for Price to be deposed. If she were to have produced the doping log, and it were admitted during court proceedings expected this fall, scandal loomed.

The potential existence of the Price file has long been a legend in the world of Olympic sport.

During testimony and depositions in an unrelated proceeding in Dallas last winter, for example, attorneys on several occasions raised, without citing evidence, the theoretical possibility that the Price secret doping log might contain the name of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

In 2004 Tailwind Sports, a company set up by San Francisco financier Thom Weisel to manage the U.S. Postal Service cycling team, promised Armstrong a $5 million bonus if he won that year's Tour de France. Armstrong won, presumably entitling him to the sum, owed by SCA Promotions, a Dallas firm that covers the risk of sponsors who promise bonuses for athletic performance. But SCA didn't pay up, citing European news articles claiming Armstrong had cheated by using banned doping products.

The dispute resulted in extensive, secret arbitration proceedings, during which an SCA attorney questioned Armstrong if he knew of the Price doping file, according to transcripts obtained by SF Weekly.

"I've been told by one person that your name, and the name of another prominent athlete, is on that," the attorney said, referring to the Price log.

"This is news to me," Armstrong responded.

"Do you know who Wade Exum is," the lawyer asked.

"No. I mean, the name, you know, rings a bell, but I — I don't know who — I've never met that person that I recall," Armstrong said. "The only thing I'll say is that I would think if I was positive, I would have been notified."

(SCA ultimately settled with Tailwind, paying $7.5 million. Thanks to laws assessing steep penalties to insurance companies refusing to make good on legitimate claims, SCA would have paid $15 million had it lost in arbitration.)

Armstrong can't be blamed for not recalling the name Wade Exum, who's by no means a celebrity.

And by settling the Exum's lawsuit, the U.S. Olympic Committee may have ensured his continued obscurity.

More importantly, the Committee's lawyers might have fended off a scandal that could have compelled them to improve the way American Olympic sports deals with the doping problem.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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