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Banned U.S. Sprinter Wins Olympics Appeal; Other Cases May Follow

The International Olympic Committee says it will fight a court's decision that overturns its rule barring athletes suspended for doping from the next Olympics. The rule, which applied to anyone suspended for more than six months, was challenged by U.S. sprinter LaShawn Merritt, with the support of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

"I am thrilled to have this uncertainty removed for the 2012 season," LaShawn said on his website. "I look forward to representing my country and defending my title in the 400 meters next summer in London at the Olympic Games and will prepare with even more determination than before."

At the London Games, Merritt is expected to race in the 400-meter sprint, as well as bolstering the men's 4x400-meter relay.

But the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport has implications that reach far beyond Merritt, who won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics — and who was suspended in late 2010 for doping.

Now, a number of athletes who have received doping suspensions may seek to compete in the 2012 London Games.

The Guardian reports:

Those now free to compete include 33 banned by the U.S. Anti?Doping Agency alone in the past three years, including the swimmer Jessica Hardy, the diver Harrison Jones and the hammer thrower Thomas Freeman. The world governing body for track and field estimated there were around 50 athletes in its sport alone who would be affected.

In Thursday's ruling, the court based in Lausanne, Switzerland, found that the blanket policy of keeping athletes from competing on the basis of an earlier suspension was essentially a way to dispense two punishments for one violation.

In that light, the court said that the IOC policy, commonly referred to as the "Osaka Rule," is "invalid and unenforceable" because it extends punishments beyond the guidelines of the World Anti-Doping Code.

As a hypothetical example of the court's reasoning, you can think of an athlete who began a six-month suspension soon after an Olympics. If they were also forbidden from taking part in the next Olympics, then their punishment would be far more severe, running for several years beyond their initial sanction.

According to the World Anti-Doping Agency code, using eligibility requirements to lengthen punishment terms is not allowed. And because the IOC has adopted the WADA code as part of its own charter, it must follow that approach.

In response to Thursday's ruling, IOC officials say they will push to have the WADA rules adjusted in 2013, according to ESPN.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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