By Mark Sappenfield writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
As antidoping officials move behind the scenes to build their case against a dozen elite American athletes, the US Olympic movement is inching closer to something it has not had for more than a decade: international credibility.
The United States had been tarred as the closest thing to a new East Germany since the end of the cold war - a country that said the right things but protected its athletes behind a veil of secrecy.
Now, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is emphatically dismissing such notions through its pursuit of any athletes connected with BALCO, the Bay Area lab charged with producing designer steroids. Yet as USADA considers banning athletes - even if they have not tested positive - some observers wonder if it is going too far.
The situation, all agree, is nearly impossible: How can you prove someone took a drug designed to avoid detection? Answering that question will not only define the American Olympic team this summer in Athens but whether America is seen as a new leader in anti- doping enforcement or merely a brute.
"We're at a crossroads here," says Steven Ungerleider, author of "Faust's Gold," a book about doping in the former East Germany. "We're carving out some new legal territory."
The idea of keeping an American athlete off the Olympic team based on "nonanalytical positive" results - circumstantial evidence is so convincing that it essentially amounts to a positive drug test - is unprecedented.
Numerous reports suggest that USADA is considering using nonanalytical positives against premier athletes such as sprinters Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery to keep them out of the Olympics this summer. The circumstantial evidence against them comes from the federal government's investigation into BALCO.
But the leaked evidence - from e-mails to financial transactions - falls far short of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, some critics say. "Nonanalytical positive has to be credible evidence," says James Coleman, a professor at Duke School of Law in Durham, N.C., who helped craft USA Track & Field's drug-testing program. "It's not that [Jones] considered taking drugs, or that she hung around people who took drugs. It has to be proof that she, in fact, did [take drugs]. …