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Crawford still loyal to scandalized former coach

Aug. 06, 2008, 9:36 a.m. (ET)

DALIAN, China(AP) They are no longer coach and student, but they will always be friends.

It's simply the way Shawn Crawford has to have it, even if the friend in question is one of the most troubled, divisive and disliked characters in track and field - Trevor Graham.

``It doesn't matter what anyone's going through,'' Crawford said Wednesday at the U.S. track team's Olympic training camp. ``If I made a friend, I made a friend and I'm going to talk to him no matter what.''

They still talk, though not as much anymore, because they have gone separate ways - Graham into track exile and deep into the U.S. judicial process and Crawford back to the Olympics.

After he won the 200-meter gold medal at the Athens Olympics under Graham's tutelage, Crawford essentially fell off the radar. A sudden resurgence this year under the direction of his new coach, Bob Kersee, lifted him to second at Olympic trials and earned him a chance for a repeat.

Not that falling off the radar was all bad for a guy like Crawford, ``The Cheetah Man,'' who in 2003 infamously raced a zebra and a giraffe for a cheesy Fox TV show (he beat the giraffe).

As track's doping crisis expanded over the last four years, a number of the stars being named - Justin Gatlin, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery - had connections to Graham.

Crawford was in Graham's rollbook, too. But his name never came up in the scandals. He has never tested positive. When he talks about his past, it is with no hint of defensiveness. When the subject of steroids comes up, he doesn't go into the automatic ``we're here to show we're clean'' mode that so many athletes, however genuine, often fall back on in this troubled sport.

``It disappoints you when somebody so close to you goes through something like that,'' Crawford said, not absolving his former coach, but not implicating him either.

He has always been a realist, knowing that being coached by Graham would bring his accomplishments into question.

``I knew it was a matter of time before my name would come up anyway,'' Crawford said. ``It didn't bother me. I know what I did. I know what I went through and how hard I practiced to achieve things and reach the goals I sought.''

That his performances dwindled soon after Graham became a target seemed to fit a predictable pattern in the gotcha world of track and gossip and doping. But the explanation for Crawford's downfall had nothing to do with the tapering off of a drug regimen, as some might have suspected.

Instead, it was foot injuries that sunk him in 2005. Then came Graham's problems, which put the coach out of business and left Crawford in a vacuum as he tried to get back to his former level.

Graham was convicted earlier this year of lying to federal investigators about his relationship to an admitted steroids dealer. He was the one who provided a vial of ``the clear,'' a then undetectable steroid, to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, blowing the whistle on what became known as the BALCO case.

At the 2004 Olympics, Graham acknowledged having sent the vial. The story, and others involving drugs, dominated the games, making bigger news than most things happening on the track, including Crawford's gold medal.

As the Graham story progressed, Crawford quietly moved to Kersee, who put him on a new training program that emphasizes more long runs rather than sprint after sprint after sprint.

Crawford concedes he has yet to enjoy a day in which he has felt as dominant or powerful as he did in 2004. He was skeptical even as late as the run-up to Olympic trials last month. But he made the team with a 19.86, the first time he'd broken 20 seconds since 2004.

``That's when it hit me,'' he said. ``It wasn't the realization like, 'You've got it again.' It was, 'Maybe I'm back.' Because it was a new feeling. I could be in better shape than I was in 2004 but I don't know how to interpret it because I've never trained like this before.''

Though he's a defending champion, he will not enter the Olympic 200, scheduled to start Aug. 18, as a favorite. That honor, or burden, belongs to Usain Bolt of Jamaica. Bolt is being talked about as a possible double gold medalist should he follow through with plans to run in the 100, where he holds the world record, and the 200, which is considered his specialty.

But people count out Crawford at their own peril.

They were counting him out at trials, too.

``He could come out there and upset anybody, because he's had the experience of winning,'' said George Williams, the men's national coach from the 2004 team. ``He's been there. It could come down to experience and who's been to the Olympics before. Because eventually, you're going to be in a situation where you're running in front of 90,000 people, and regardless of what you say, that will change the attitude of anyone who's going to run.''

Crawford said he doesn't go into the Olympics feeling like he's defending anything.

Instead, he feels like he's chasing something new.

If he wins, there's a good bet an old buddy will get a phone call.

``He's a great coach. He took me through some of the best times in my career,'' Crawford said. ``It was hard watching what he's gone through. Because I still look at Trevor as a good friend of mine.''