PARIS, October 19 – American 400 metres Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt received a 21-months ban on Monday for failing three dope tests the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced.
The 24-year-old – who is also the world champion at the distance – tested positive three times for an anabolic steroid dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) which his lawyer claimed was contained in an over-the-counter penis enlargement product.
Merritt, who claimed he had started using the product after the 2009 season, first tested positive on October 28, 2009, then on December 8 and finally on January 16 this year.
The suspension has been backdated to start on October 28, 2009, though, he did not receive the most stringent punishment possible, a two year ban.
Merritt had said back in April, when it was first revealed he had failed the tests, how embarrassed he was.
"To know that I’ve tested positive as a result of a product that I used for personal reasons is extremely difficult to wrap my hands around.
"I hope my sponsors, family, friends and the sport itself will forgive me for making such a foolish, immature and egotistical mistake. Any penalty that I may receive for my action will not overshadow the embarrassment and humiliation that I feel inside.
"I am deeply sorry and hope that other athletes who take these types of over-the-counter products will be even more cautious and read the fine print, because if it can happen to me, it could happen to you."
Merritt, who first displayed his talent by taking world silver in 2007, had ended compatriot Jeremy Wariner’s dominance of the 400m when he eased to Olympic gold in Beijing in the fifth fastest time in history of 43.75 seconds.