By Duncan Mackay in Vancouver

February 23 - Scott Blackmun (pictured), chief executive of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), has pledged they will not appeal against having to return the gold medals its women's 4x400 metres team won at the 2004 Games in Athens if the rules state that is what they must do.

The US faces the embarrassing prospect of being stripped of the gold medals in the event for the second consecutive Games after Crystal Cox was banned by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)  last month after she allegedly admitted taking illegal drugs during that period.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced here earlier this month that they have now launched an investigation and are set to disqualify the team which would see Russia promoted to gold, third-placed Jamaica to silver and fourth-placed Britain to bronze.

The US was also stripped of the gold medal in the 4x400m relay and bronze in the 4x100m relay at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 following Marion Jones' admission of doping.

Jones returned her medals, but her team-mates appealed to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to keep theirs.

CAS is due to rule on the case this year.

The IOC also failed to overturn a decision at CAS to strip the US men's 4x400 relay team, including Michael Johnson, of their Sydney gold after Antonio Pettigrew admitted doping.

Blackmun promised he would not back an appeal in this latest incident unless he felt it was the right thing to do.

He said: "I feel bad for those athletes who didn't cheat and are in danger of losing their medals.

"I want to understand what the rules are.

"I'm not going to fight those medals if those rules are clear we shouldn't keep those medals."

Sanya Richards, Dee Dee Trotter, Monique Henderson and Monique Hennegan ran in the Athens final.

Moushaumi Robinson joined Cox (pictured) in the preliminary heat.

The latest case appears more straightforward than the relay cases from Sydney.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had no specific rule in place in 2000 for dealing with an entire relay team in the event of doping by one member.

By Athens, however, the IAAF had a rule specifying that the entire team should be disqualified and lose medals.

Blackmun said: "At some point you have to stand up and do the right thing - and acting in a way you expect other nations to act.

"We are not going to fight it just the sake of fighting it.

"We support doing the right thing."

The IAAF are due to discuss the case at its Council meeting in Doha next month during the World Indoor Championships.

The admission by Cox came after an investigation that was triggered by information from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) case.

Blackmun, nevertheless, believes that there is an anomaly in the rules that govern sports that are part of the Olympics.

He said: "The rules suggest on a team sport, like soccer, as I understand the rules, if you have one positive test the team doesn't lose its medal.

"No-one would suggest that team ought to give back the medal just because one player tested positive."

But that would not be the basis for another appeal to the international court, Blackmun promised.

He said: "If the rules are clear and that medal has to go back then we are going to fully support that medal going back."

The reputation of the USOC has been damaged by a series of damaging doping scandals involving some of its top athletes, including Jones, who had to return all five of the medals, including three gold, she won at Sydney after admitting doping, and Justin Gatlin, the winner of the 100m in Athens who is currently serving a four-year ban after testing positive for testosterone less than a year after winning the Olympic title.

Blackmun said: "I don't think the USOC is any better or worse on on the drug front.

"We have more high-profile athletes just because of the size of our country and we might get a little more than our fair share of the press."

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