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Exclusive: Corrie Clark Stripped of Pan Am Medal by Mistake -- April 28, 2004

By Phillip Whitten

PHOENIX, April 28. LATE last week, an American swimmer was stripped of the silver medal she had won at last summer’s Pan American Games. Corrie Clark, a 22 year-old junior at Southern Methodist University, was one of seven athletes whose medals were retracted by the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) for unspecified “doping infractions.”

Clark, who had finished second in the 100 meters breaststroke behind US teammate Stacianna Stitts, lost her silver medal and had her name stricken from the official results. Two Canadian swimmers were then moved up in the official placings, with Kathleen Stoody upgraded from bronze to silver and Lisa Blackburn awarded the bronze medal, according to a report in the Canadian National Post on April 24.

The problem is, Clark had already been cleared of the doping charge by swimming’s international governing body, FINA. Apparently, however, PASO never got the word.

What happened is this: On August 14 in Santo Domingo, Clark says she drank either one or two cups of coffee before her race. When she was drug tested after her race, she initially scored just over the acceptable limit for caffeine. A test of the B sample in November confirmed the initial finding.

However, in a letter dated October 20, 2003, Clark's attorney, Mark Muedeking, pointed out some irregularities in the testing procedure which resulted, he said, in Clark testing just above the acceptable limit. He also noted the recently-announced decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to remove caffeine from the list of performance-enhancing substances altogether. He then requested that FINA take no action against Clark and "impose no sanction with respect to the test results."

The FINA Doping Panel hearing the case, chaired by Harm Beyer, concluded that since WADA had removed caffeine from its list of performance-enhancing substances, the principle of lex mitior must apply.

Under lex mitior, a law applies as soon as it comes into force if it is more favorable to the accused. The principle is a feature of the legal systems of all democratic governments. The Doping Panel concluded that it also applies to anti-doping regulations.

Consequently, FINA took no action against Clark and imposed no sanction.

According to Jim Wood, Chairman of USA Swimming's powerful Olympic International Operations Committee (OIOC), FINA "probably reported its actions to ASUA" (the Association of Aquatic Sports of the Americas). It appears, however, that PASO never got the word.

FINA officials say they sent an e-mail to Stacy Michaels, Drug Control Coordinator for USA Swimming, confirming that though Clark "may have committed a doping offense... on August 14," the principle of lex molitor must be applied and Clark may not be sanctioned. Michaels failed to return numerous calls yesterday to confirm the contents of the e-mail.

USA Swimming officials are adamant in stating that, in light of the FINA decision, the PASO announcement is incorrect. Jim Wood stated: “What came out of PASO is incorrect. Corrie Clark has not committed any doping violation and has been completely exonerated.”

Carol Zaleski, Chairman of the FINA Technical Committee and past president of USA Swimming, concurred. “FINA says there is no violation and there is no sanction.” She held out the possibility, however, that PASO might still decide to strip Clark of her medal despite the fact that she has not committed a violation and will not be sanctioned. This, however, is highly unlikely, she said.

Mario Vasquez Rana, head of PASO and an IOC member from Mexico, could not be reached for comment.

For her part, Clark has full confidence in USA Swimming’s ability to straighten out the international misunderstanding.

“USA Swimming informed me (yesterday) about what is happening. Their media people are taking care of it,” she said.

“I have no concerns. I’ve already been found not guilty.”

Meanwhile, USOC and USA Swimming officials are attempting to find the formula that will correct this case of poor communication.

“We have talked with USA Swimming’s legal counsel on this matter,” said a spokeswoman for that organization, “but there are still some facts we are working on confirming through the USOC.”