Sotomayor's Drug Suspension Halved

Javier Sotomayor got only half of what he wants.

The Cuban high jumper learned Wednesday he will be able to compete in the Sydney Olympics, yet he maintains he is innocent of drug use and will continue to fight to clear his name.

“I am happy, but not totally satisfied,” Sotomayor told The Associated Press outside the Karl Marx theater before an evening ceremony for Cuban athletes participating in this summer’s games.

Maintains Innocence

Earlier in the day, the International Amateur Athletic Federation cut Sotomayor’s drug suspension from two years to one, making him eligible for the 2000 Olympic games. But it did not exonerate him for drug use.

A two-time world champion, the world record-holder and the ’92 Olympic champion, Sotomayor, 32, was stripped of his gold medal in the high jump at last year’s Pan American Games after testing positive for cocaine.

Sotomayor, backed by President Fidel Castro and Cuban sports authorities, has maintained his innocence and suggested he was set up by someone trying to harm the communist country’s reputation.

“I want to keep trying to clean up my image,” said Sotomayor, who was accompanied by fellow Cuban track star Ivan Pedroso. “That is my goal.”

Support From a Nation

During the ceremony, Sotomayor was greeted by the warm applause of hundreds of Cuban athletes, coaches, their relatives and Castro himself.

“During this year, I have been away from competitions, but not from sports,” Sotomayor told the crowd inside the theater. “I have never felt humiliation, nor scorn, but rather warmth, respect and the affection of the entire nation.”

Sotomayor’s trainer, Guillermo De la Torre, said he was pleased the high jumper would be able to compete, but lamented that the decision “assumes that he had consumed that disgusting substance.”

Nevertheless, De la Torre predicted that Sotomayor would again win the Olympic gold medal.

‘Exceptional Circumstances’

Although Sotomayor has not competed for a year, he has continued to train and is currently capable of jumping more than 7 feet, 8 inches, De la Torre said. Sotomayor jumped 7-6½ over the weekend during an exhibition in Havana.

The IAAF, during a meeting held Wednesday in Monte Carlo, Monaco, to handle pending drug cases, also opened the door for former Olympic 5,000-meter champion Dieter Baumann to compete in Sydney.

Five weeks ago, a three-person IAAF arbitration panel overturned a ruling by the Cuban Athletics Federation that let Sotomayor continue competing domestically and in other non-sanctioned meets.

The IAAF had suspended him from all competition until July 31, 2001, but cited “exceptional circumstances” in cutting the ban in half.

Sotomayor denied using drugs, and Castro and the country’s athletics federation claimed his urine samples were manipulated.

“Exceptional circumstances take into account the career of Sotomayor, the fact that during 15 years he underwent 300 doping tests, all negative,” IAAF spokesman Giorgio Reineri said.

“There were also his acts as a member of the IAAF athletic commission, many humanitarian considerations and the fact this is his last Olympics.”