Bad News Bearer

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One year before the 2000 Olympics, at a small meet in Ringwood, Melbourne, Werner Reiterer-fueled by banned drugs-hurled a discus 69.69 m. Had he repeated that throw at the Games, he'd have won gold. But Reiterer did not compete in Sydney. Instead, he quit athletics, wrote a book about doping-among the most disturbing published on the subject-and dumped it in the host nation's lap just two months before the Opening Ceremony.

In Positive, Reiterer admitted to five years' abuse of performance-enhancing drugs. He explained the abuse as a last-ditch response to a sports world so awash with drugs that natural athletes-who are in the minority, just a few percent, he said, in some events-either succumb or compete without real hope of success. In this hypocritical world, the notion of "cheating" is meaningless and drug testing is ineffectual. "Sport is ugly," Reiterer wrote-and athletes, coaches and officials know it.

He adorned his story with noble sentiments, addressing his two daughters in an introduction that said, in part: "My decision to withdraw from the 2000 Olympics is so that you can see there is still a place in the world for honesty." As the launch date neared, he pondered the likely reaction. He knew the timing was sensitive and that he would upset many people, not least Olympic officials. But in time, he decided, they would accept the book as worthy: if sport is to be cleaned up, it must first be seen for what it is.

Seven months after publication, Reiterer, 33, sometimes wonders why he bothered. Though there's a flash of defiance during an interview with Time-"It's not over yet," he says, hinting at plans to make a second splash-mostly he sounds bitter and resigned, and the black shirt he wears this day seems apt. A hostile media, he argues, has sullied his reputation-beyond the self-inflicted damage. The Australian Olympic Committee, with a determination that puzzles him, is pursuing him through the courts for alleged trafficking (he has so far spent $A15,000 in legal fees). And as far as he can tell, for all the effect the book has had on the public's grasp of the realities of sport, he might as well have published his shopping list. Since he stopped using drugs early last year he's lost 18 kg, but that, he says, is a superficial change compared to others: "I used to be easy-going and take people on face value; but I don't feel I can do that anymore."

He'd hoped the world's media would be fascinated by his tale and use it as a springboard for their own investigations. The early signs were encouraging. Press releases drew hundreds of inter-view requests. Publisher Pan Macmillan checked Reiterer into a Sydney hotel, where for 72 hours he did little besides talk to journalists. "But most of them had totally missed the message," he says. "The international press were O.K., but the Australian press-all they wanted was names, and if I didn't give names, I was a liar and a cheat. Here were people who'd never competed in top-level sport, and they were questioning my credibility."

From his fellow athletes there was mostly silence, though swimming champion Kieren Perkins called the book "disgusting" and called on the Australian swimming team to bring a class action against Reiterer. Olympic swimming coach Brian Sutton said anyone who bought Positive would be "unAustralian."

Reiterer had hoped the Olympic chiefs might eventually be grateful to him. After all, he'd handed over the cheats' game plan: read it and learn. But the A.O.C. seemed more interested in damage control: it announced an inquiry into his allegations, then abandoned it before it began; and it promised him a job as an A.O.C. anti-drugs campaigner (the job hasn't eventuated). To date, fewer than 20,000 copies of the book have been sold, and no American or European publisher has picked it up.

But while most sports fans plain forgot about Reiterer, the A.O.C. went after him. The standard penalty for the drug offences Reiterer has admitted to is a lifetime ban-and he's ready to submit. But the A.O.C., based on its reading of the book, alleges that Reiterer has been involved in trafficking and is seeking unspecified "additional sanctions" through the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). For now, the case is before the Supreme Court of New South Wales-it reopens March 20-where Reiterer's lawyers are trying to stop it from reaching the CAS. Reiterer denies any involvement in trafficking.

As a book about drugs in sport, Positive had everything except names. And it's the A.O.C.'s desire to get some, according to sources, that is driving its court action. A.O.C. general secretary Craig McLatchey is guarded: "We wish to understand more, and we can do that through Werner providing evidence before CAS." But Reiterer's lawyer, Terry McCabe, says that if the A.O.C. tries to grill Reiterer for names under oath, McCabe will advise him to refuse to answer, on the ground that such inquiries would be an abuse of CAS.

A.O.C. officials maintain that the book is useless to them unless Reiterer unmasks the corrupt athletes, coaches and officials he claims abound. It's a view shared by Simon Allatson, chief executive of Athletics Australia, who adds: "Here was a chap who made an extraordinarily brave decision, who could have left a legacy for Australian sport, but wasn't prepared to go one step further." Reiterer, who's always said the purpose of the book was to expose a culture of doping in elite sport and not to destroy the reputations of individuals, responds: "In the past, athletes who've been caught using drugs have volunteered nothing. I've given them as much as I can possibly give, without ending up in jail or bankrupt [from defamation suits], and they're still trying to crucify me."

Olympic insiders suggest two other theories for the A.O.C.'s pursuit of Reiterer. The first is that he's being punished for embarrassing the Olympic movement on the eve of the Sydney Games. The second, from a source close to A.O.C. chiefs, is that the Olympic family is making an example of him "to discourage other athletes from contemplating tell-all books." McLatchey dismisses both theories.

As a confessed drug user, Austrian-born Reiterer is an unlikely candidate for sympathy. But to read Positive is to be a passenger on his journey of disillusionment. At 19, he threw the discus 2 m further than any teenager in the world ever had, and went on to become a nine-times national champion. Yet at big international meets (including the 1988 and '92 Olympics) he was consistently beaten by, to his mind, inferior athletes with inferior technique. He rejected drugs for years-even though the "athletes of the world [were] laughing at my morals and na´vety." But eventually he began a program that would include steroids, testosterone, human growth hormone and insulin. He tells how the drugs transformed him into a superathlete who might have won in Sydney had he not decided that "there was something pathetically wrong with the fact that ... an entire country would urge me on without any concept ... of the sham of which they were unwittingly a part."

Positive wasn't a complete waste of time. An independent inquiry into Reiterer's allegations against the Australian Sports Drug Agency (asda), while clearing it of wrongdoing, identified several areas for improvement. It was not asda's fault that Reiterer passed a drug test in January last year while taking eight banned substances; that he did highlights the magnitude of the task confronting the Olympic movement and all those working for clean sport. Reiterer feels he's being persecuted for telling the truth, but McLatchey is dismissive: "Why should he be considered a victim? He made some very broad statements about athletes and officials. Some of them are under a cloud as a result. It could be argued that, if they've done nothing wrong, they are the victims."

Reiterer watched bits of the Sydney Olympics on TV, enjoying them the only way he could-"by sitting back, taking in the spectacle and not looking too hard into it." He works in his family's construction firm, but the business that preoccupies him is the A.O.C.'s court action: "My wife and I lie awake at nights in disbelief at what's going on." Yet if he had his time over, he'd write the book again. Amid the confusion and anger, there's a kind of peace. He was a bigger man on drugs, but a better one, he feels, for having divulged sport's secrets. If no one's listening, well, that's their problem.