Battered Washington still chasing gold
This is the extraordinary story of a sportsman betrayed by his closest friend, of a life destroyed by someone else's cheating and deceit and of a sport struggling to cope with the aftermath of a doping explosion.
Tyree Washington could have been an athletics superstar. He should have gold medals galore, world records, sponsorship deals and a healthy bank balance.
He should have, but he doesn't. And none of it is his fault.
Washington was a 400m runner with a rangy running style and a trademark headband around his shaved pate. As a 21-year-old he won bronze at the 1997 World Championships, anchored the US 4x400m team to gold and was part of the quartet that set a new world record the following year.
Both the relay medal and record have now been taken off him, scratched from the books after his team-mate Antonio Pettigrew admitted doping throughout the period.
Worse was to come. In 2003 he won silver at the Worlds in Paris behind Jerome Young and again took gold in the 4x400m. First the relay gold went, courtesy of team-mate Calvin Harrison's ban. Then the bombshell - his best mate Young had been doping too.
"They robbed me," he says simply. "Jerome took away my moment. He took away everything."
It was Young's duplicity that distressed Washington the most. The pair had roomed together on the European circuit for years, hung out, done all the things that best friends do.
"When Jerome won the world title, I was happy for him," Washington told me. "If it wasn't going to be me who won it, I wanted it to be him.
"That night, though, I looked into his eyes and I knew something was wrong. He didn't seem right to me. He wasn't at peace. I was his best friend - with anyone else, he could look at them and they wouldn't notice, but I'm Ty. I felt there was something wrong.
"When all the allegations came out, it made sense. He tested positive, and I was like, 'Hey J, what happened?' and he said, 'No Ty - it's not true - they're trying to set me up.' Then it happened the second time, and I was like, 'Oh man...'
"I wanted to believe him, but it happened so many times. And he was with Trevor Graham's group - these are people with athletes that have doped."
That Washington had made it to the start line in Paris was something of a miracle in itself. Brought up by his single mother, with his father in prison, he suffered from such acute asthma as a child that he spent long periods in hospital.
After his breakthrough year in 1997, his life lurched off the rails again two years later when his 18-month-old niece was murdered by her mother Rosalyn. Washington testified in court against his sister and saw her imprisoned for life - something he says "broke me apart" - but is now trying to support her as she battles a cancer so advanced that she is losing her sight.
In 2003 he was unbeaten both before and after the Worlds. Michael Johnson wrote in his BBC column that Washington could dominate the 400m for years to come. Then came Paris and Young's victory, followed by a succession of debilitating injuries. His track career would never again hit the same heights.
In February this year, Washington was finally upgraded to world champion in the IAAF's record books. When we speak, however, that's as far as it's gone. He's still waiting for his medal and his winner's cheque. The sponsorship money he would have received as world champ is almost certainly gone forever.
"I love athletics, but it feels like I'm being treated like the guy who did something wrong," he says. "They gave me the title six years later, and it really doesn't make up for it.
"My friends say that they should have a ceremony at this summer's Worlds in Berlin to give me my medal - it would only take two or three minutes. It's the least they could do, but they're not even doing that.
"I've lost millions of dollars in sponsorship. Not winning that gold that night - my sponsors backed out, because they don't want a second-place finisher. I didn't get the increase in my base salary for being a world champion. There's so much money that I lost and I can't get back."
Washington remains angry with both US Track and Field (USTAF) and the IAAF over what he perceives as a lack of sympathy and assistance. "There's the blood sweat and tears, the being in hospital for hours on end, and being away from my kid so I can make a living - but they just see me as a has-been. They hope I'll go away, and I'm appalled by it.
"I'm going to tell it like it is. I love my country, but the way they've treated me, I'm embarrassed to have run for the United States."
For their part, the governing bodies say their hands are tied. "It's not unique to Tyree, but it illustrates how athletes lose out when other athletes cheat," says USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer.
"If someone were to test positive at the 2007 Worlds, their prize money would be withheld until the test was completed, but here's a situation where the prize money has already been paid out.
"It's years down the road, and recovering money that no longer exists is frankly a problem. Going to Jerome to ask for the money - Jerome doesn't have £30,000. Getting blood from a stone is very difficult."
Neither the IAAF nor USATF have any jurisdiction over athletes who no longer compete. In effect, Young is out of reach.
"If Jerome had been banned for just one year and wanted to come back to compete, he would need to pay the money back to compete - and that's the carrot and stick used by the IAAF and us to get money repaid," says Geer.
"But in the case where the athlete doesn't want to compete again, and also doesn't have the means to pay, it gets very complicated. We don't have the legal leverage to get the money out. It's something that's very, very difficult to solve."
Washington, a passionate and engaging man, is angry not only for himself but at the damage done to athletics as a whole by the doping culture.
"When an athlete makes that decision, they're not just affecting themselves and seven other rivals," he says. "They're affecting families and friends, coaches and agents, the sporting world. There's a black cloud over the whole sport. People think athletics is a freak show, a contest about who can drug up the most.
"They start to think, Was Ty drugging? Was Marc [Raquil, 2003 world bronze medallist] drugging because he had that fantastic finish? I was clean, Marc was clean, everyone but one man was clean - but Jerome ruined it for all of us."
Washington is not the type of man to sit around feeling sorry for himself. While he continues to fight for the money and respect he feels he is owed, he has set up a campaign called Killeroids to warn high school students and young athletes how steroid abuse can ruin lives.
"I wanted to fight back, and I thought the best way to do it was to educate," he says. "This is my way of trying to build up the sport.
"Marion [Jones] and Justin [Gatlin] failed the sport. The world looks at track and field and thinks we have all failed. We're role models and teachers, and kids look up to us. If we make a wrong decision, it'll affect them all. I want to get a message out there that we are trying to kick the cheats out.
A week after Tyree and I first chat, and a few days after I ask USATF and the IAAF about his case, there is finally some good news.
Tyree hears from USATF that a new gold medal has been forged for him by the IAAF and sent on to the States. USATF also promise to present his medal at the national championships in Eugene at the end of June.
For Washington it is a bittersweet moment. On one hand he is delighted - he will at last receive the gold, six years after Young took it from him in Paris. On the other, he will never know the feeling of standing alone atop the podium at a World Championships.
The prize money, the sponsorship money, is not his. And, ultimately, the pain of betrayal by his best friend remains.
"This will help me and all athletes past and present," he says. "But as an athlete, I fought til the very end. I went out there full force for my country, so I'm going to do whatever I can to get justice.
"People say I'm bitter. I'm not bitter, Tom, I'm upset - but wouldn't you be upset if someone took four gold medals and a world record away from you?"