03/27/2006 at 01:00 AM EST
French tennis phenom Valentine Fauviau's young opponents simply couldn't keep up. Match after match, they would falter, even get dizzy. One 11-year-old girl collapsed against a fence; others were literally carried off the court.
Then tragedy struck. In July 2003, after losing a match to Valentine's brother Maxime, then 15, his opponent, Alexandre Lagardere, became so tired he apparently fell asleep at the wheel of his car and crashed into some trees. Lagardere, 25, was killed.
An investigation led to a startling conclusion and, on March 9, a conviction: A French jury found Valentine and Maxime's father, Christophe Fauviau, 46, guilty of doping his children's opponents' water bottles with the antianxiety drug Temesta, which causes drowsiness, during tournaments across France from 2000 to 2003, and unintentionally causing Lagardere's death. At trial in the French town of Mont-de-Marsan, prosecutor Serge Mackowiack said Christophe "turned his children into objects of his own fantasies of success."
For his part, Christophe—a former army helicopter pilot who admitted his crimes and apologized—said, "It's something that completely took me over." His lawyer Christian Blazy says Fauviau, sentenced to eight years in prison, "had no self-esteem. He lived through his children. If they won their matches, he felt better about himself."
Ironically, Valentine didn't need the help. "She was the real thing," says Pascal Lasserre, who coached the girl—now 16 and ranked No. 5 in France for her age group—in the small city of Dax. As for brother Maxime, now 18, "I don't play much tennis anymore," he says. "The joy has gone out of it for me."