May 15 - America's LaShawn Merritt, the reigning Olympic 400 metres champion, says he finds it tough being labelled a drugs cheat having returned to sport following a 12-month ban.
The 25-year-old from Virginia failed three drugs tests in 2009 when he tested positive for the banned steroid dehydroepiandrosterone but he claims he has never taken any illegal substance to enhance his performance.
The failed test was followed by the surprising confession from Merritt that he had consumed it through the use of a penis enlargement drug.
Merritt (pictured above) returned last year, winning silver in the 400m at the World Championships in Daegu behind Kirani James of Grenada, and alongside the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) helped overturn the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) rule 45 or "Osaka Rule" which banned any athlete serving a suspension of six months or more for doping violations from the subsequent Olympic Games.
The move means that Merritt is eligible to defend his title his Olympic title at London 2012 but he confesses that he is growing tired of continually being labelled a drugs cheat.
"One of the worst things about the ban is the media because now, whenever people write about me, they call me a drug cheat and the headline always says doping or something like that," he told insidethegames here at the 2012 Team USA Media Summit.
"That is tough because I am not a drug cheat.
"I didn't take anything to improve my performance and I took it completely outside of the competition period.
"I had no advantage and my samples even showed that. But people just run with what they see and they see doping.
"What I took, I am sure that a lot of men out there take.
"My only mistake was that I am an elite athlete and I guess I was just guilty of not checking it properly.
"When I got the call telling me about the ban, I was in a state of disbelief and shock.
"I know that as an athlete, you have to take responsibility for what goes in you and you have to check it properly.
"I've definitely paid for what I did in terms of not checking but I'm not in the same bracket as what you would call a drug cheat.
"That just isn't me.
"I got to the top through hard work and dedication, not by cheating.
"People will still doubt me but what else can I do?
"I've been cleared by the highest court and I can't see what else I can do.
"I'm coming back and I'm just as proud of myself as I was when I left."
Merritt also confessed that his attitude towards drug testing has been altered by the process and that he made a mistake that was easy to make.
"Drug testing in sport is very important and we need it to catch the cheats," he said.
"But there are so many substances on the prohibited list that it is honestly very hard to avoid absolutely everything.
"There are literally thousands of banned substances.
"Not all of them are steroids and mine wasn't a steroid but right now, if I am ever in any doubt, I just call my lawyer.
"My case was really unique though in that I wasn't a traditional performance enhancing drug.
"I don't feel like other athletes look at me any differently than they did before.
"They look at me, look at my body, and they see that I am not a drug cheat.
"I will keep taking the tests whenever they are required and I will keep working hard for that gold at London 2012."
To read the full insidethegames interview with Merritt, click here.
Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]
October 2011: Merritt can compete at London 2012 after CAS rule IOC ban is illegal
April 2011: USOC hope to abolish rule that stops drug cheats competing at London 2012
January 2011: IOC stand firm on tough anti-doping stance as Merritt London 2012 hopes begin to look limp
October 2010: Coe backs London 2012 ban on Olympic 400m champion
October 2010: American Olympic champion could miss London 2012 over sex drug ban