LOS ANGELES:Sprinter Justin Gatlin had his doping ban reduced, but not by enough to make him eligible to defend his Olympic 100-meter title this year.
An arbitration panel, in a 53-page ruling released Tuesday, reduced the 25-year-old American's potential eight-year ban to four. With the ban set to expire May 24, 2010, it means Gatlin would be ineligible for the Beijing Olympics in August.
Still, the panel left open the possibility of a further reduction.
The three-member panel unanimously ruled Gatlin committed a doping offense when he tested positive for excessive testosterone in April 2006, but the sprinter's first doping offense in 2001 troubled the group.
If that doping violation were erased, that would make Gatlin's 2006 case his first offense, clearing the way for a further reduced ban. First doping offenses often result in a two-year ban, which would make him eligible to run in May, a month before the U.S. Olympic trials.
Gatlin has six months to appeal.
The panel called the circumstances surrounding Gatlin's first offense ''the real dilemma.''
As a 19-year-old competitor at the World Youth Championships, Gatlin tested positive for amphetamines, part of a prescribed medication he was taking for attention deficit disorder. Gatlin had stopped taking the medicine a few days before the competition, but it didn't clear his system, according to the case records. He received a two-year ban.
The International Association of Athletics Federations later reinstated Gatlin after he had served only one year of the ban but never specifically said Gatlin had ''no fault'' in the case.
USADA characterized Gatlin's reinstatement as a reduction in the ban whereas Gatlin contended it vacated the finding of a doping offense.
The panel said Gatlin could go through an appeals process to seek a finding of no fault in the first case or ask the IAAF for a clarification on its earlier ruling.
''The actions of the IAAF clearly suggest at a minimum, a finding of 'no significant fault' in 2001,'' the panel said. ''However, there is no evidence from which this panel may determine that a finding of 'no fault' under the current WADA standard was made or could be inferred.''
''No significant fault'' would leave Gatlin still somewhat responsible for the positive test, and it would remain a first doping offense. A ''no fault'' finding would erase the offense.
The 2001 findings came under different standards than those in effect now because the World Anti-Doping Code had yet to be established.
A family member who said he was speaking on Gatlin's behalf told The Associated Press ''the fight is not over for us.''
''We feel we were wrongly done,'' said the man who answered the phone at Gatlin's parents home but declined to give his name. ''He has a disability. The family is going to sit down. We're going to decide where to go next.''
Gatlin's attorney John Collins did not return messages left on his office telephone and cell phone.
The ruling means Gatlin will have no immediate chance to regain his world record in the 100 meters. He shared the record of 9.77 seconds with Jamaica's Asafa Powell. Since then, Powell has improved the record, finishing in 9.74 seconds last September.
Gatlin, who held himself up as a role model for clean competition before his positive test, has said he doesn't know how banned substances entered his system before the April 2006 test.
Gatlin accused a disgruntled massage therapist of rubbing a steroid cream on him to trigger the positive test, but the massage therapist repeatedly has denied the allegations.
The panel did note Gatlin's cooperation with a US government doping investigation and his apparent sincerity as a witness.
''While Mr. Gatlin seems like a complete gentleman, and was genuinely and deeply upset during his testimony, the panel cannot eliminate the possibility that Mr. Gatlin intentionally took testosterone, or that he accepted it from a coach, even though he testified to the contrary,'' the ruling said.
Gatlin's arbitration hearing - overseen by the American Arbitration Association - was held last July and was not open to the public. The case was reopened last August to gather more information on Gatlin's first offense.
One panel member dissented with the ruling, saying the first doping offense should be thrown out because it violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, a US law that prohibits discrimination against those deemed to have a mental or physical diability.