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US Runner Merritt's 2012 Olympic Status Uncertain

United States gold medalist LaShawn Merritt reacts after winning the men's 400-meter event at the IAAF World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki, Greece. (2009 file photo)

One day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled he is ineligible, American runner LaShawn Merritt has been told he still has a chance to compete at the 2012 London Olympics.

The IOC said Tuesday the defending Olympic 400-meter champion would be ineligible for the Games because of a 2008 rule that automatically disqualifies any athlete from the next Olympics if he is banned for more than six months.

But the American arbitrators, who handed Merritt a 21-month ban for using a prohibited substance found in an over-the-counter male enhancement product, disagree.

They say since the IOC follows the World Anti-Doping Code, it must allow Merritt to compete because barring him would essentially extend his ban to three years. His suspension expires in July of 2011.

The final result is still uncertain and may have to be decided in a court appeal.

The Merritt case has much in common with that of American swimmer Jessica Hardy, who was forced out of the 2008 Olympics after testing positive for clenbuterol.

She was found to have unknowingly taken the banned agent in a contaminated food supplement and was handed a reduced one-year suspension. Her status remains uncertain because the same IOC rule would bar her from the London Games.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.