Dwain Chambers is not the first London character to head to Turin looking for gold. It was in the northern Italian city that Michael Caine, in the guise of Charlie Croker, masterminded the ambush of a crock of precious metal in The Italian Job. “I wasn’t aware that it was set in Turin,” Chambers confesses. “You learn something new every day.”
Might the in-form sprinter learn to grab his Turin gold a little more decisively, though, than the British gang who were left hanging over a cliff with their loot? “I think so,” Chambers says, looking ahead to the challenge of the 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships, which take place in the Oval Lingotto on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. “And it’s not going to involve me stealing it. It’s going to involve me working hard for it, running faster than everybody else.”
There was a time, of course, when Chambers strove to pilfer gold from his rivals, often his British team-mates, while fuelled with THG and various other products of Victor Conte’s Balco laboratory. He succeeded in doing so in the 100m at the outdoor European Championships in Munich in 2002, but was caught by the drug testers a year later and was obliged to hand back the one individual gold medal he has won in a senior international championship, together with the rest of his ill-gotten gains.
That bust was six years ago. It was in 2006 that Chambers made his comeback, after serving a two-year suspension. Now 30, he happens to be running quicker on natural talent than he ever was with a body pumped full of steroids. The Belgrave Harrier has been in the form of his life over 60m in this indoor season, blitzing to personal bests of 6.52sec at the Birmingham Games and 6.51sec at the UK Championships in Sheffield. It is an ironic state of affairs that leaves him clear favourite for the continental crown in Turin. The next fastest man on the European rankings is Simeon Williamson, his British team-mate and fellow Londoner, with 6.53sec.
Should Chambers succeed, it would not be the first medal he has won since his comeback. At the outdoor European Championships in Gothenburg in 2006, he ran the lead-off leg for the winning British 4 x 100m relay quartet- after which Darren Campbell pointedly refused to accompany him on a lap of honour. And in March last year, he took the 60m silver medal at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia. This time, though, if Chambers were to emerge victorious he would be the first reinstated doping offender to stand alone at the top of a medal rostrum wearing a Great Britain tracksuit.
And that, in all probability, would provoke a repeat of the kind of moral outrage that surrounded him last year- when he returned from a failed attempt to make it in American football to find UK Athletics, the domestic governing body of the sport, attempting (unsuccessfully, as it proved) to bar him from the British team for the World Indoor Championships. He then lost a High Court attempt to overturn the British Olympic Association bylaw which bans past doping offenders from Britain’s Olympic team.
“I’m not going to get involved in all that,” Chambers says, wearily. “I’m just going to go out to Turin and win, and just continue doing that and that only. I don’t want to get involved in the politics no more. It just becomes tedious and messy. It becomes a war and I don’t want that. There’s enough craziness going on in the world already.
“It’s crazy that I still have to deal with this kind of stuff. It’s three years now since I finished my suspension and made my comeback. I’m just trying to turn things around and show that it can be done the right way. This is the best I’ve ever been running. I’ve taken a long time to grow up and mature and realise what ability I do have. I wish I’d realised it a long time ago, but you make mistakes in life. I made a mistake, a long time ago, and I’ve had to deal with it. I’d just like to close the chapter and move on.”
Happily for Chambers, Charles van Commenee, the new head coach of UK Athletics, is of the same mind. “Dwain has served his sentence,” the Dutchman said after watching him win in Sheffield three weeks ago. “I will treat him the same as any other athlete.”
All Chambers asks is to be treated the same as any other athlete who has the blemish of a positive drug test on their curriculum vitae, although the BOA bylaw means he will never get the opportunity to crown his rehabilitation with an Olympic gold medal, as the Canadian 110m hurdler Mark McKoy did in Barcelona in 1992 (four years after fleeing Seoul in the wake of Ben Johnson’s failed test and subsequently confessing to having himself been a steroid user)- and as the Brazilian long jumper Maurren Maggi did in Beijing last summer, with the minimum of fuss about her past indiscretion (she served a two-year suspension after testing positive for clostebol, an anabolic steroid, in 2003).
Chambers, who failed at the American football side Hamburg Sea Devils, continues to be portrayed as some kind of demonic creature of the sporting world, while Carl Myerscough slips into the British team, as the Blackpool shot-putter does again in Turin, with hardly a passing mention of the drugs test he failed 10 years ago. Myerscough happens to be white, which might help to explain why Chambers’ autobiography, which is published next Monday, carries the title Race Against Me.
Another subject in the book is suicide, which Chambers confesses he considered while at his lowest point. “It was literally a flickering thought,” he says. “When it came in, I processed it and got rid of it. I thought, ‘I can’t do that.’ I was at the stage of becoming a father, so I wasn’t prepared to be that selfish. I wasn’t going to stoop that low.”
Now a father of three, Chambers admits that, with his earning power as an athlete virtually hamstrung by the EuroMeetings bar on reinstated drug offenders, he needs the money from his book to fund him for at least another year. His hope is that gold in Turin might help to ease open a few doors towards some summer head-to-heads with a certain Usain Bolt.
Chambers’ indoor 60m times suggest the north Londoner might have been the closest man to the Lightning Bolt, had he been in the Olympic 100m final in Beijing last summer. At the very least, he will get the chance to catch up with his one-time sparring partner on the track at the World Championships in Berlin in August. The pair trained together in the winter of 2005-06 when Chambers went to Jamaica to prepare for his comeback season. That, was before the Lightning Bolt became a world-record-breaking phenomenon.
“I’ve run against Usain on the training track, so I know what I’m up against,” Chambers says. “That doesn’t pressure me. I’ve had to stand in the Royal Courts of Justice and be told I can’t go to the Olympic Games. That’s more pressure than standing on the start line with the fastest man in the world.
“With what I’ve had to cope with over the past few years, nine seconds of pressure and concentration is something I can deal with. I’m a tough little cookie. I just want to get on the big stage and compete with the best guys in the world.” After tackling the best in Europe in his particular Italian Job, that is.
Race Against Me by Dwain Chambers is published by Libros International, priced £18.99, on 9 March.