Vitamin company says it isn't responsible for steroid contamination

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- The lawyer for Guillermo Coria told a jury Tuesday that the young tennis player lost two seasons, millions of dollars and his reputation because of "sloppy manufacturing" that tainted a multivitamin with a steroid.

Trace amounts of a steroid, not listed on the label, led to a mandatory suspension for Coria, lawyer Will Nystrom said.

"To make matters worse, Guillermo was branded as a cheater," Nystrom told an eight-person jury hearing Coria's case against Universal Nutrition, maker of a multivitamin the player took.

If Coria prevails, some experts believe it would be the first time a world-class professional athlete proved that a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs was caused by product contamination. The Argentine was once ranked No. 3 in the world.

Sports management executive Gavin Forbes told the jury Coria's suspension for testing positive cost the young pro at least $10 million in prize money, bonuses, appearance fees and endorsement deals.

"He was a very marketable young guy," Forbes said. "We can only assume, since he was one of the biggest stars, it was because he had a taint to his name."

Coria's swift rise to No. 90 in his first year and then to No. 47 was a rare achievement, Forbes said. He noted that after his suspension ended in 2002, Coria quickly regained a place in the top eight in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Forbes said his firm, IMG, was interested in Coria before he turned pro in 2000 at age 18 but lost to a competitor. IMG signed Coria after his suspension.

"He's an exceptional tennis player who has something special. Very few of them have it, and it's usually the champions," Forbes added.

Forbes acknowledged that Coria has played little since 2005. Beset by injuries, Coria slipped out of the top 100 in 2006 and is currently ranked 347th by the ATP.

Richard Grossman, a lawyer for New Brunswick-based Universal in central New Jersey, said the company is not to blame for any contamination. He told the jury Universal took care to prevent steroids from being mixed into batches of vitamins.

He said the bottle of multivitamins that Coria took had brown pills but that pills retained from that production cycle were yellow and do not change color. Grossman said he cannot explain why but noted that he does not have that burden in this trial.

Coria's lawyer said Universal is missing records from when the multivitamins were manufactured.

Coria was suspended in 2001 at age 19 for two years. It was eventually reduced to seven months after a lab test showed the multivitamin was tainted with steroids, Nystrom said.

Coria was out of tennis from August 2001 to March 2002. He reached his highest ranking, No. 3, in May 2004.

Dressed casually in a white short-sleeve, button-down shirt, the 25-year-old player listened to a translation of the proceedings in Spanish through a headset, as did his wife, Carla.

Coria is expected to testify Wednesday, Nystrom said. The trial is estimated to last about 10 days.