Former Terry Sanford track standout defends friend in the aftermath of Olympic ban

By Earl Vaughan Jr.

The pressures faced by Olympic athletes are difficult for the general public to fathom, especially when those pressures result in inaccurate or misleading reports about an athlete’s eligibility for competition.

Demetria Davis knows full well the burden of being in the spotlight of representing her country on the world stage. The Terry Sanford High School graduate is one of the most outstanding track and field athletes in Cumberland County history.

She won multiple individual and team titles while running for the University of South Carolina and captured a gold medal in the 2003 World Championships as a member of the 4×400 meter relay team.

But Davis was recently upset with recent unflattering news reports about friend and fellow track standout Brianna McNeal.

Multiple published reports said McNeal was hit with a five-year ban from the sport for using performance-enhancing drugs.

The New York Times clarified the situation with a story on July 1, as McNeal broke her silence on the suspension and gave her first public interview.

She told the Times that she missed a drug test because she declined to come to the door when an official came to her home unannounced to collect a urine sample.

Because of that, the Court of Arbitration for Sports recently banned McNeal from competing, denying the 2016 Olympic 100-meter hurdle champion the chance to defend her title after she earned a spot on this year’s team.

She will be replaced by former North Carolina State runner Gabbi Cunningham.

While Davis is delighted for Cunningham, she remains deeply frustrated that her friend McNeal has been branded as a someone who uses performance-enhancing drugs when McNeal has denied it and Davis herself is certain it’s not true.

“The reason she lost her appeal is she missed a drug test,’’ Davis said. “I’m all for people getting consequences, but the facts are wrong.’’

As a former world-class athlete, Davis is familiar with the procedure involved in testing Olympic athletes for drugs. It’s a process that puts unusual demands on what an athlete must do to remain in good graces with the governing bodies of USA Track and Field.

“As athletes, we have to give our whereabouts to certain entities,’’ she said. “When they came to test her, she did not answer the door. She did not answer the phone. That counts as a missed test violation.’’

Davis stressed all such drug testing is entirely random and the athlete never knows what day or time a knock will come at the door with someone standing there holding a cup to take a urine sample from the athlete.

“They could come to your house at 6 a.m.,’’ Davis said. “If your whereabouts change, you have to update that information to different entities so if they come looking for you, you are where you said you’d be.’’

Davis added there’s no privacy to the test. Someone has eyes on the athlete at all times to make sure the urine sample they are providing is from them alone and isn’t being borrowed from somebody else.

The complex drug testing rules involve more than a lack of privacy. The list of banned substances is long and complicated, and Davis said it even includes some prescription medications people normally take to deal with conditions like high blood pressure.

“There were instances where athletes have been prescribed medicine for high blood pressure they can’t take because it’s on the banned list,’’ she said. “It is my responsibility to know what those banned substances are, even though the list is very broad and very long.’’

Davis said that’s why it’s frustrating that someone can get labeled for using a “banned” substance when in many cases it may involve a normally legitimate medication that everyday people are allowed to take.

“Brianna McNeal missed a drug test,’’ Davis said. “She had a drug test violation. It said nothing about she was using performance enhancing drugs. It can be heartbreaking sometimes when you’re talking the truth and you’re portrayed another way.

“I would just say, know what you’re talking about and really do your research. Sometimes we need grace and compassion as well.’’