World 100m champion Justin Gatlin embroiled in new doping scandal
Justin Gatlin, the world 100 metres champion, is at the centre of a new doping scandal after members of his team offered to illicitly supply performance-enhancing drugs.
Gatlin and his entourage are now being investigated by sports and doping authorities after a Telegraph investigation uncovered how members of his team offered to provide prescriptions in a false name and smuggle the substances to the United States.
Undercover reporters visited Gatlin’s Florida training camp where his coach and an athletics agent offered to supply and administer testosterone and human growth hormone for an actor training for a film. The products were to be provided via a doctor in Austria. The total fee for the project was to be $250,000 (£187,000).
The coach, the former Olympic gold medallist Dennis Mitchell, and the agent, Robert Wagner, were also secretly recorded claiming that the use of banned substances in athletics was still widespread as they described how positive doping tests could be avoided.
In one meeting, the agent claimed that Gatlin had himself been taking performance enhancing drugs – which the sprinter has strenuously denied in a statement.
On Tuesday, Gatlin denied using performance enhancing drugs. In a statement on social media, the sprinter said that he was "not using and have not used" banned substances and that he was "shocked and surprised to learn that my coach would have anything to do with even the appearance of these current accusations".
"I fired him as soon as I found out about this", he said.
On Monday night, Gatlin’s legal representatives announced that he had sacked Mitchell and revealed more than five years’ worth of official drugs tests to show “he has never tested positive for any banned substance”.
Gatlin’s agent for the last 14 years, Renaldo Nehemiah, said that Wagner had worked for Gatlin on no more than two or three occasions and that the sprinter was not present when banned substances were discussed with either the agent or coach.
The revelations threaten to reignite the scandal of drugs in sport just three years after Russia was said to have systematically doped its athletes. Gatlin himself has twice been banned for doping, in 2001 and 2006.
The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), which was set up by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in the summer, and the US Anti-Doping Agency, said they had opened an investigation into the sprinter, the agent and the coach after being made aware of the Telegraph investigation.
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A spokesman for the AIU said that the IAAF’s code of conduct applied to both athletes and their support personnel and that “designer drugs” had “always been a challenge”.
A spokesman for the US Anti-Doping Agency said: “Investigations stemming from tips and whistleblowers play a critical role in anti-doping efforts. We are presently coordinating with the Athletics Integrity Unit in order to investigate these claims fully.” Lord Coe, the IAAF president, said: “These allegations are extremely serious and I know the independent Athletics Integrity Unitwill investigate in accordance with its mandate.”
Gatlin beat Usain Bolt at the Jamaican world record holder’s final competitive race at the World Championships in London last summer. Gatlin was booed by the crowd, with some commentators unhappy that he was allowed to compete.
The Telegraph began the investigation in July after being told that specific agents and trainers were involved in administering and supplying drugs to athletes and that the regulators had failed to take action.
One of the individuals identified was Wagner, who boasted he had represented some of the biggest names in the sport, including Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter stripped of his 1988 Olympic gold for doping, and high-profile British athletes including Colin Jackson and Dame Kelly Holmes. There is no suggestion that these other athletes have ever taken any banned substances.
Undercover reporters posed as representatives of a production company making a film about athletics. They said that they wanted to find people to train the star of the film, so that he could be in shape to play an athlete.
Wagner named a number of high-profile people who he claimed would be willing to take part in the training. He said he had told the IAAF integrity unit about his communication with undercover reporters in November.
“I wasn’t involved in doping,” he said. “Obviously I played along because I knew what was going on. I had to get them hooked.” When asked about his claims that his colleagues used banned substances, he said: “I told her [the undercover reporter] that to get the job.” He denied that he knew of Gatlin’s use of performance enhancing drugs, saying: “I am not Justin Gatlin’s agent, how would I know that?”
When it was pointed out he had facilitated a meeting with the runner, he said: “She [the reporter] wanted to hear that because she wanted to get the job.”
The agent suggested that both testosterone and human growth hormone might be useful to ensure that the actor got into shape quickly, and that the prescription for the products could be acquired in his name and via a doctor who already supplied the products to him personally.
Profile | Robert Wagner
“I will have to give my name and get this, and get this through my prescription, right?” said Wagner. He said using drugs was a “daily situation” and his “field of expertise”. He said: “I cannot tell you openly in front of five people that this is what we’re always doing left and right. This is what track and field is about.”
When the reporter asked how recently the agent had been involved with the banned substance, he added: “Three months ago. Before the season ended. Right now. Obviously, and as soon as the season starts.”
As if to illustrate his point, he continued by naming sports stars who were using drugs, including Gatlin. “You think Justin is not doing this? Do you think Dennis [Mitchell] wasn’t doing this? Everybody does it,” he alleged.
When the undercover reporters met Gatlin at the beginning of December, he said Wagner has been his “race track” agent for around five years, alongside Nehemiah. Gatlin said that Wagner arranged deals and travel and was paid a percentage of his earnings.
Gatlin vehemently denied the doping allegations on Monday night. Nehemiah said that Wagner had only represented the runner on a handful of occasions, the last time being in 2015, and the arrangements for the fictional film project were a “one-off”.
Wagner introduced the reporters to Mitchell, who was Gatlin’s coach.
The agent alleged that he and Mitchell had experience using pharmaceutical products in athletics.
However, later, Mitchell said to one of the reporters that he did not use the substances on his athletes and they were “clean”.
Although there is no evidence that the sprinter is currently using any banned substances to enhance his performance, Wagner’s claims and his association with him and Mitchell is likely to lead to questions about his judgment.
The sports agent also made comments that raise questions about the effectiveness of doping tests and said some athletes may be using so-called “designer drugs” that cannot be detected.
He said that the testers might be able to “see that something is going on”, but they would need to “develop a test”, and for that, “you actually need the product”.
Gatlin’s lawyers said that Wagner had “reasons to misinterpret his experience with prohibited substances” and denied that the athlete used any banned substances since his return to the sport following his ban.
They said that Gatlin had only met the undercover reporters as a “personal favour” to Wagner and that it was a “lapse in judgment”.
They said that Wagner’s role representing the sprinter on a potential involvement in the film project was a “one-off” and that it would not be “a stretch to think that Mitchell and Wagner were putting on quite a show to impress who they thought were ‘Hollywood’ producers”.
Mitchell said in a witness statement provided by Gatlin’s lawyers that none of his current athletes was using banned substances. He also said it was “false” that Gatlin was taking drugs.
Wagner said that he had informed the IAAF about the project. He said that he had not been doping athletes.
‘Justin is going to do it, just like every other sprinter in America is going to do it’
It was 28 degrees and the world champion had been doing gruelling 500-metre sprint training. Out of breath and clutching a bottle of water, Justin Gatlin stood by the side of the track and praised his “racetrack agent” as “a good guy” whose “connections run deep”. The man he was talking about was Robert Wagner, an Austrian train station manager turned sports agent who has represented a host of household-name athletes.
Now Wagner was offering to help an actor get into shape for a film role and had promised to provide him with testosterone and human growth hormone. Wagner boasted that “everybody does it” and offered up several Olympic gold-medal athletes to assist with a training programme for the fictitious actor.
To that end he had proposed letting the actor stay and train with Gatlin at the US athlete’s Florida base and had set up a meeting between the ‘film producers’ and track star. But as he stood discussing how the actor would become a part of his “extended family”, Gatlin had no idea that the people he was meeting were actually undercover reporters. Nor was he aware that Wagner had claimed to undercover reporters that Gatlin was using banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Wagner has worked behind the scenes of athletics for more than 30 years, maintaining his official agency registration despite representing stars who have failed doping tests – including sprinter Kelli White whom he would later marry.
Covertly recorded tapes show how the Austrian lives a jet-set lifestyle, with a business based in Monaco and homes in the Austrian Alps and Florida and an involvement with a training academy in Kingston, Jamaica.
But the promise of a lucrative movie consultancy contract from the undercover reporters proved too tempting.
Asking for a total fee of almost $250,000, he boasted that he could enlist the help of some of the biggest names in the business and a selection of doctors from across the world who he could “trust” to prescribe, oversee and administer growth hormone and testosterone.
Wagner, who is registered with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), set up meetings with Gatlin and his coach Dennis Mitchell, a former relay gold medallist.
Despite his apparent success it took only two meetings with a complete stranger, posing as a fixer who needed to get a film star into shape for a role as a sprinter, for Wagner to start boasting about the secretive world of sport.
“There is so much room for blackmailing and dirty games,” Wagner claimed. “Every sport. Whatever does money does corruption.”
Now it is a money thing, now you have labs and universities design drugs for you which there is no test for.Robert Wagner
He also began to reveal a familiarity with drugs commonly used in doping.Growth hormone and testosterone could be used as a “plan B”, he said, adding: “Growth hormones, because they get rid of the weight immediately.”
It was “magic stuff” that could also reduce wrinkles, he said, explaining that “all good things are illegal, trust me”. “It was a normal thing in the 80s until they started to put things on the ban list, right? When I started track and field everybody – every sprinter – was taking it,” he explained.
When asked if it was still happening, Wagner said: “Now it is a money thing, now you have labs and universities design drugs for you which there is no test for. There’s one thing I’m sure, this federation and this sport knows that they’re doing something but they cannot really put their finger on [it], they don’t know what it is and knowing somebody has taken something and proving it in a court is two different things.”
As his confidence in the undercover reporters grew, so did Wagner’s descriptions of the way doping worked and he assembled a team who he said the reporters could “trust” to talk openly about the drug treatment as they are “on our page”.
Mitchell was present when Wagner claimed during one meeting next to a racetrack in Florida that they had used the drugs before ‘with athletes’. Wagner, apparently unconcerned that it was likely to be illegal to acquire and supply prescription-only drugs, claimed that “we don’t even have a moral issue” as the man [actor] was not competing.
Profile | Justin Gatlin
Meanwhile, Mitchell reassured the reporters that he would be able to spot any side effects of taking HGH, such as an enlarged heart, as he could watch the changes in the body and the way he recovered.
Wagner planned for the actor to travel to Florida, where Mitchell would “babysit” him, and they would hire a chef, with meal plans provided by a dietician, and a driver. When asked how the “pharmaceuticals” would be administered, he said: “Well as I said, if he doesn’t care whether this comes out one day or not then we can find a doctor, but…”
When pushed on who would be deciding how much was needed, and who would administer it, he said: “Me and Dennis.” On the premise that “this doesn’t leave this table”, Wagner said he had used the drug before and explained that it was like an insulin injection and did not go directly into the bloodstream but if the concerns continued then both he and Mitchell were confident that they could get a physician to administer it.
He said: “He won’t get a shock, because we’re not gonna start with a full dosage. We will go slow, also after three weeks, you need one week off.”
He said that he would get the stuff from a doctor in Austria and then fly in with it as he trusted European doctors over American ones to get quality drugs and not counterfeits from China.
“Nobody stops you when you’re in a suit and tie,” he explained when asked if he was comfortable taking the drugs through customs.
“I fly to America once a month. This, this is a little box I bring… for personal use I can always bring whatever I want, especially when I have a paper that goes with it, which has my name in my suitcase.”
He said that he would “take one for the team” as Mitchell would not want to get the prescription. “A relay coach in USA track and field, I don’t think you want a banned substance on your name,” he pointed out.
When asked to spell out privately whether he knew what he was doing, Wagner claimed: “I will deny this ever happened… I cannot tell you openly in front of five people that this is what we’re always doing left and right.”
He then alleged: “This is what track and field is about… You think Justin is not doing this? Do you think Dennis wasn’t doing this? Everybody does it!”
Profile | Dennis Mitchell
When asked if his experience was historic or whether doping was still going on, he replied: “Three months ago, before the season ended, right now, obviously, and as soon as the season starts.” He then claimed: “Justin is going to do it, just like every other sprinter in America is going to do it. They have to do it.”
Gatlin has “categorically denied” the use of any performance-enhancing drug and says that Wagner is not his regular agent and would not be in a position to know. Gatlin’s lawyers added that their client had undergone monthly drug testing since 2012 with no adverse findings.
To prove his credentials, Wagner emailed a picture of a syringe and a vial of what appears to be PeptidePros FRAG 176-191 2mg – a synthetic form of human growth hormone, describing it as the “special nutrition and the insulin needles which will be used”.
In the meeting, Wagner told reporters: “This is what it is in sports right? And the synthetic ones cannot be detected. You can test them up and down but anyway it’s not, is not going to find it.” Assuring the undercover reporter, he said: “You are in our field of expertise, 100 per cent.”
When he was asked if he had a reliable doctor in Austria, Wagner said: “Obviously they’re all fine. All these athletes are fine.” He added: “I cannot openly, in front of four people, say that we do this every day.”
Wagner claimed: “It cannot be found in the body… Because it is synthetically produced. You cannot find something like that.” He said that to develop a test for a product they needed to actually have it so they knew what they were looking for and laboratories could then change the structure and make it undetectable again.
He continued: “Even if you mix two products, it’s over, you cannot find it. Next thing is, that test has to hold in a court.” He said that if an agency attempted to prosecute and it didn’t hold up, then they could be sued for “millions” by that athlete.
“By the time they have a test, people are already using the next, next generation,” he explained. “And they hope this next generation is better than the old generation right…
“And EPO is called EPO. If you don’t mix it with another product, yes they can find you. If people don’t have the knowledge and the money to buy the proper things or get one of them fixed up then you got a problem.”
But as he confided in one reporter, Mitchell sat just metres away insisting to a second that “my athletes are clean”.
He explained: “Well the thing that’s popular in our sports now, and I’m talking to you hypothetical, like we don’t know for sure, this is what I hear.
“What’s going on in the sport now is that people are taking things what are called tailored type drugs.
“Yeah, because in order for somebody to get caught, there is like, like a DNA strain that particular steroid has, right? And they test for that strain.
So these athletes are out there taking all these chances but they don’t know what’s going to happen to their body. They could grow a third leg 10 years from now. You just don’t know.Dennis Mitchell
“Right, well you know a DNA strain has all kinds of chemicals connected to it. They pull one out, put something else in. Now it is totally different. So that’s a tailored kind of drug, the only problem with that is you don’t know what it gives you on the other end as the side effects.
“See what I’m saying? So these athletes are out there taking all these chances but they don’t know what’s going to happen to their body. They could grow a third leg 10 years from now. You just don’t know.” Mitchell has since issued a statement denying that he agreed to take part in a training programme using banned substances. He said that Gatlin had not used any performance-enhancing drugs since he had begun coaching him in 2011.
Earlier this month, the men arranged for undercover reporters to meet Gatlin at the training ground, where the world champion, who has twice been banned for doping, said that they “welcomed” people joining the “extended family”.
When told that the scheme had been set up by Wagner, who he has known for many years, Gatlin said: “He’s a good guy. His connections run deep, deeper than he allows us to know.”
Wagner said that he had informed the IAAF Integrity Unit about his communication with undercover reporters in November. “I wasn’t involved in doping,” he said. “Obviously I played along because I knew what was going on. I had to get them hooked.”
When asked about his claims that his colleagues used banned substances, he said:“I told her that to get the job.”
He denied that he knew of Gatlin’s use of performance-enhancing drugs, saying: “I am not Justin Gatlin’s agent, how would I know that.”