In her heart, Raducan still has two gold medals

Associated Press
SYDNEY, Australia ---- The gold is gone and so is the sweet, wide-eyed trust Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan brought with her to the Olympics.

"I did nothing wrong. I just had a cold," the dark-eyed sprite said. "I just don't understand why everything has turned out this way."

It started with the two little over-the-counter pills her doctor fed her and ended in an arbitration court. In between the International Olympic Committee lifted her all-around gold medal because the pills contained the banned stimulant pseudoephedrine.

On Thursday, the arbitrators agreed that taking the medal was the right thing to do.

The presence of the drug constitutes an offense "irrespective of whether or not the competitor intended to ingest the prohibited substance," the Court of Arbitration for Sport said.

To which Raducan, all 4-foot-10, 82 pounds of her, responded:

"My heart is at peace that I've done everything right and competed cleanly. All I did was take an innocent pill."

It didn't matter that she meant no harm, that she swallowed the medicine because a doctor she's trusted for most of her life told her to take it.

It didn't matter that everyone, including the IOC, knew she wasn't trying to pull a fast one.

"The panel is aware of the impact of its decision on a fine, young, elite athlete," the arbitrators said.

"It finds, in balancing the interests of Miss Raducan with the commitment of the Olympic movement to drug-free sport, the Anti-Doping Code must be enforced without compromise."

Raducan, who turns 17 on Saturday, gets to keep her gold from the team competition and her silver from the vault. But her gold from the all-around -- Romania's first since Nadia Comaneci's 1976 -- now goes to her teammate, Simona Amanar.

Another Romanian, Maria Olaru, gets the silver. Liu Xuan of China, the fourth-place finisher, is now the bronze medalist. The IOC said Friday (Thursday night EDT) that the Chinese and Romanian delegations agreed not to have a formal ceremony to re-award the medals.

Amanar and Olaru at first wanted to refuse their new medals. Raducan is more a sister than a teammate after years of living and training together, and what one couldn't have, the others didn't want.

They eventually changed their minds because they'd rather have the medal in Romania than collecting dust in a vault.

"I'm going to accept it only because it belongs to Romania," Amanar said. "But I know it belongs to Andreea. She's the Olympic champion."

Added Olaru, "I don't understand why always the little people have to suffer for the mistakes of the big people."

The big people don't all understand, either. With performance-enhancing drugs becoming more and more pervasive, the IOC is trying to draw a clear line between what's allowed and what's not at these Olympics.

Raducan is the fifth athlete to be disqualified at the Sydney Games, and nine others were tossed for failing pre-competition tests. The team doctor who gave Raducan the pills was expelled from the Sydney Games and suspended through the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake and 2004 Summer Games in Athens.

Still, there is a big difference between an athlete whose muscles bulge because of steroids and Raducan, a wispy little thing who had the sniffles. Even as IOC members defended their decision, their emotions were clearly mixed.

"My heart is with the athlete but it's a decision that stood the test of arbitration, and everybody must live with that," said Kevan Gosper, an IOC executive board member from Australia.

"It's a decision that was put to the test. It's a non-ambiguous one and it demonstrates we're serious about doping -- if anyone had any doubts."

That doesn't make it any easier to explain to Raducan. Romanian Olympic Committee president Ion Tiriac couldn't, saying, "We're talking about an aspirin."

Tiriac said he would quit as Romania's Olympic chief in "two or three weeks" because he had introduced the harsh life-ban policy for any Romanian athlete guilty of doping. To remain in his post after backing Raducan, no matter what the circumstances, would seem a double standard, he said.

"Maybe the person who replaces me will be smarter than me and include some clause (in the doping suspension rules) so we don't have ridiculous situations like this," he said.

Comaneci also sensed the odd nature of the situation.

With her fearless tumbles and pixieish charm, Raducan is the successor to Comaneci that Romania has sought for 20 years. When Comaneci appeared with Raducan at the news conference after the court's decision, it was touching blend of past and future.

"It's difficult for me to explain to her in my own language that you're innocent, but you're still not going to get the medal," Comaneci said.

There's no use trying.

Raducan has already figured it out for herself.

"I lost a medal, maybe," she said, sitting up a little straighter at the press conference, a touch of defiance creeping into her small voice.

"But in my soul, I know that was my place."