Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt banned 21 months

Olympic gold medallist runner LaShawn Merritt has been banned from track through to July next year for using a banned substance found in an over-the-counter male enhancement product.

Merritt won the 400-meter Olympic title in Beijing. He accepted a provisional suspension earlier this year and received a 21-month suspension from arbitrators yesterday.

The suspension is retroactive to last October and he’ll be eligible for the 2011 world championships next August.

The 24-year-old from Virginia tested positive for testosterone prohormones three times between October last year and January.

He cooperated with doping authorities, and arbitrators took three months off the normal two-year ban for first-time offenders.

In finding Merritt’s use of a product called Extenze, the arbitration panel wrote that Merritt’s conduct “was exemplary and demonstrated tremendous character in making what had to be a painful and humiliating confession”.

In a statement released through his attorney, Merritt said he appreciated the arbitrators’ decision to cut the suspension by three months, which would allow him to defend his 2009 world title.

There are no world championships this year.

“While I acknowledge that I made a mistake, I appreciate that the arbitration panel listened to all of the evidence, and agreed that I have never taken any substance to gain an advantage on the track,” Merritt said.

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