Sotomayor Tests Positive for Cocaine

By Bert Rosenthal
AP Track Writer
Thursday, August 5, 1999; 11:32 a.m. EDT

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) -- Did Cuban high jump great Javier Sotomayor ingest cocaine, as Pan American Games officials found in a drug test? Or was he manipulated, as Cuban officials insist?

Eduardo de Rose, medical chief for the Pan Am Games committee, said Wednesday it made no difference where the cocaine originated or why it was taken.

``Once the substance is found in urine, we do not question where it came from and the reason for taking it,'' de Rose said.

Sotomayor reacted with indignation.

``I have only seen that substance in movies,'' he told the Cuban Communist Party daily Granma in an interview published today. ``Only on television.''

Cuban officials said Sotomayor never took cocaine and charged the substance was planted in something he ate or drank.

``He is such a gentleman. To us, it is almost impossible he would take this substance,'' said professor Rodrigo Alvarez Cambra, director of the orthopedic complex of Cuba. ``He has told us he has not taken this substance and we believe his word.

``That is why we know this is a manipulation in the case of Javier Sotomayor.''

Dr. Mario Granda of the Cuban medical group added, ``The man is completely innocent and we trust him. He said he has not taken a banned substance.''

Cuban rhetoric aside, Sotomayor, the world indoor and outdoor record-holder and the only high jumper to clear 8 feet, will be suspended for two years, meaning he is ineligible for this month's World Track and Field Championships and next year's Olympic Games.

His absence will leave the sport without one of its most recognizable names. Revered by athletes and fans throughout the world until now, Sotomayor has fallen from hero to villain. Instead of bringing glory and glamour to Cuba, he has brought shame and disgrace.

Sotomayor withdrew from Saturday's International High Jump Meeting in Eberstadt, Germany, reportedly because of a back injury suffered at the Pan Am Games.

In announcing the withdrawal today, meet director Peter Schramm said Sotomayor had told him several days ago that the back problem may force him to pull out of the Eberstadt event.

It is up to the Cuban federation to suspend Sotomayor. If the Cubans do not suspend him, the International Amateur Athletic Federation will.

The Cubans are expected to appeal the ruling against their most respected and popular athlete, who was seen with Cuban leader Fidel Castro at a gathering in Matanzas, Cuba, on Tuesday night, honoring the country's gold medal-winning baseball team.

Late Wednesday, Sotomayor drove his red Mercedes into his garage and closed the door, and met in his home with Cuban sports officials.

The Sotomayor case is the biggest drug scandal in track and field since Canada's Ben Johnson was suspended and lifted of his gold medal after testing positive for an anabolic steroid at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

``I am shocked. I cannot believe it. I am very surprised and upset, because I have great esteem for Sotomayor,'' IAAF president Primo Nebiolo said.

Sotomayor won his fourth Pan Ams gold in the high jump last Friday, the final day of the track and field competition.

The Cubans did not name anyone who might have been responsible for causing Sotomayor's positive test. And they said they were not taking any special precautions to protect their athletes from sabotage.

``We are simply eating what the rest of the athletes are eating,'' Granda said. ``We hope those who manipulated these results or enhanced these results or altered the results of a person who never took this substance will never do this again.''

Mario Vazquez Rana, president of the Pan American Sports Organization, said that in doping cases, his group does not differentiate a recreational drug such as cocaine from a performance-enhancing substance such as a steroid.

``To us, it is sanctioned as an infraction,'' he said.

Sotomayor was the third athlete, all gold medalists, to test positive at these games.

Steve Vezina, goalie for Canada's in-line roller hockey team, was caught using Nandrolone, costing the team its gold medal. Juana Rosario Arrendel, winner of the women's high jump and the only gold medalist from the Dominican Republic at the games so far, was stripped of her medal for using stanozolol.

In addition, Ray Martinez, a member of Mexico's baseball team, refused to take a drug test, which was tantamount to a positive test.

Sotomayor's urine sample showed cocaine in the amount of 200 parts per million, which would be consistent with a person who uses the drug, de Rose said.

He said the discovery of cocaine traces indicates the drug would have been taken four to five days before the test.

``More than that, we would not find it,'' he said. ``When we find traces of cocaine ... it shows the ingestion was very recent.''

Granda called Sotomayor a ``complete sports gentleman'' and said he was a ``flagbearer for the struggle against doping.''

``His dignity is much above and beyond any results given in any laboratory,'' Granda said. ``He is an innocent man.''

Granda said Sotomayor's fourth gold medal ``will be in the hearts of all Pan Americans who love you and trust you.''

The gold medals now go to Canada's Kwaku Boateng and Mark Boswell, who tied for the silver.

Sotomayor won the 1992 Olympic gold medal, the 1993 and 1997 world outdoor championships, and the 1989, 1993, 1995 and 1999 world indoor championships.

This was another embarrassment to Cuba's team at the Pan Am Games. Eight Cubans have left the delegation, including one journalist, with sources close to the team saying at least seven plan to defect.

Sotomayor earned his place in sports history by jumping 8 feet at San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 29, 1989. He improved that record to 8-0 1/2 at Salamanca, Spain, on July 27, 1993.

He set the world indoor record of 7-11 1/2 on March 4, 1989.

Sotomayor is considered the best high jumper ever -- better than Dick Fosbury, better than Valery Brumel, better than John Thomas. No one has accomplished more than the 31-year-old Cuban.

Granda said Sotomayor had been tested in more than 60 competitions, including eight this year, and never tested positive.

Outside the Winnipeg Convention Center, about 25 protesters circled in front of the main entrance, holding signs saying, ``Let Cuba Play,'' and ``Pan Am is a sporting event not a political event.''

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press