By David Glasier, The News-Herald
Columbus >> Butch Reynolds will be one of the featured guests Aug. 6 when the Lake County Captains stage their annual Cleveland Sports History Night promotion at Classic Park.
The 52-year-old Akron native and longtime Columbus resident is best known for winning gold and silver medals as a sprinter in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
He will join former Browns standout Hanford Dixon, UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, former Indians outfielder and 1980 American League Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau and other well-known sports figures in greeting fans on the concourse and throwing ceremonial first pitches before the Lake County Captains play the Dayton Dragons at 7 p.m.
Reynolds will sign hundreds of autographs. In this era of cell-phone cameras, he will also be asked to pose for at least as many “selfies.”
“I’m a people guy, so I’m excited and happy about the opportunity to be there,” Reynolds said Aug. 2 during an interview on the campus of Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, where is associate head coach of the track and field team.
Most of the fans Reynolds will meet at Classic Park will know him best for his performances in the 1988 Summer Games. He won the silver medal in the 400-meter race and a gold medal as anchor of the United States’ 4x400-meter relay team.
Track and field aficionados also may recall that one month before the 1988 Summer Games, Reynolds shattered a 400-meter world record that had stood for 20 years when he ran a time of 43.29 seconds at an international meet in Zurich, Switzerland.
Chances are, though, that only a select few of the fans will be fully conversant with Reynolds’ dogged pursuit of vindication from the results of a random drug test in August 1990, That test produced a positive result for Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid banned by the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) and all of his sport’s governing bodies.
From the beginning, Reynolds has forcefully argued his innocence while challenging not just test results but the mechanism applied to that particular test.
“I never used steroids, never,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds waged a long, extraordinarily expensive battle in the courts to gain reinstatement and overturn the two-year suspension from competition he received after the disputed drug test.
He thought he had cleared the final hurdle in June 1991 when a federal arbitrator ruled against the suspension imposed by the IAAF and seconded by The Athletics Congress. Instead, those governing bodies ignored the arbitrator’s ruling and argued the jurisdiction of U.S. courts did not extend across international lines.
Even when the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in July 1992 and forced the U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Track and Field to allow Reynolds to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials, the tide did not turn in his favor.
Reynolds qualified for the 400 meters, but was turned away at the airport gate when the U.S. track and field team left for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain. U.S. team officials chose not to challenge the IAAF’s unswerving stance on Reynolds’ suspension.
“The IAAF classified me as ‘contaminated’ and threatened to disqualify the whole U.S. team if I came to Barcelona,” Reynolds said.
That fight to clear his name ended in 1994 with a federal court finding in his favor. The court levied $27.3 million in damages against IAAF.
The price for that victory was crushingly high. Reynolds, who once earned $400,000 annually between competition prizes and endorsements, lost everything he owned and saw his first marriage collapse.
While just over $3 million in damages ultimately was recovered from a few of IAAF’s corporate partners, Reynolds said, all of that money went to legal fees.
Reynolds continued to compete internationally after the suspension ended. He qualified for the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, but did not earn a medal in Atlanta.
To hear him tell the story, Reynolds has focused the lion’s share of his energies since then on rebuilding his personal life while working with and coaching younger people.
A graduate of Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron and Ohio State University, he started the Butch Reynolds Care for Kids Foundation in Akron. He was the speed coach for Ohio State’s football program from 2005 to 2007. In Columbus, he operates the Butch Reynolds Sports Academy.
Reynolds has been on the coaching staff at Division II Ohio Dominican since 2013. He lives in Columbus with his second wife, Stephanie, and stepchildren J’Niah and William.
“I’ve got a family that loves me with all their heart,” he said. “They knew nothing about this struggle when we first met and loved me for me. That means the world to me.”
Reynolds, 6-foot-3 and 183 pounds, proudly tells anyone who asks that he weighs the same now that he did when setting that world record and winning Olympic gold 28 years ago.
He has watched with dismay as doping scandals have clouded the run-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics beginning Aug. 5 in Rio de Janiero. “It’s an embarrassment,” Reynolds said. “The IOC (International Olympic Committee) and all the governing bodies have no credibility. They want to put on a show, get TV ratings and rake in the money.”
The passage of time has not diminished the competitiveness in Reynolds.
Today, it drives him to continue seeking redress from the IAAF and all the governing bodies he argues falsely accused him of cheating.
“They said I wasn’t good for the sport, but I am good for the sport,” Reynolds said. “I am a drug-free athlete living by the Olympic Creed. It just wasn’t right that they made me the fall guy.”