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LaShawn MerrittIn 2009, sprinter and Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merrit tested positive for banned performance enhancing drugs and faced a two year ban from competition — a lifetime in the world of sport. To the world, it looked like another case of desperate athletic doping. But the New York Times reports:

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What happens when an athlete ingests a prohibited substance and it was truly inadvertent? And he can prove it to the satisfaction of antidoping officials? And he is willing to tell the truth about what he took, even if his admission causes his private life to be made public and subjects him to embarrassment and ridicule?

This is what happened to LaShawn Merritt. Three times from October 2009 to January 2010, he tested positive for steroid derivatives called DHEA and pregnenolone.

Except — and this is a big exception — the substances were not intended to enhance athletic performance. They were contained instead in a male-enhancement product called ExtenZe, bought over the counter from a convenience store.

Cleared of any wrongdoing, Merritt is now enjoying his redemption, both public and athletic, at the 2011 world track and field championships in Daegu, South Korea.

In a preliminary heat, he ran the fastest time of any quarter-miler this year, 44.35 seconds. Still not fully race sharp after a long layoff, though, Merritt was caught at the wire in the final and finished second. Then in October, he scored one of the most important victories of his career, not on the track but before the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The tribunal nullified a controversial rule established by the International Olympic Committee. The rule prohibited athletes who received doping bans of six months or longer from competing in the next Olympics even if they had completed their suspensions. Essentially, the I.O.C. constraint was found to punish athletes twice for the same violation.

His eligibility restored for the London Games, Merritt will attempt to become the only man other than Michael Johnson (1996, 2000) to repeat as Olympic champion at 400 meters.

“I saw a top-10 list of the most ridiculous excuses for positive drug tests,” Tygart said. “This is probably the only one on the list proved true through a court of law.”

Read the entire story in the New York Times.

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