Published Date: 08 February 2009
By Mark Woods
FOR A man whose fame and infamy have been maintained on the flats of the track, Dwain Chambers constantly finds hurdles in his path. Seven days ago, he ran the fastest 60 metres of his indoor career in 6.52 seconds. If it were any other British athlete, we would be slavering unconditionally, hyping him as the man most likely to get the closest view of Usain Bolt’s heels later this summer while admiring his blistering power.
But this is, after all, Dwain Chambers. Not just a blur in spikes but an uncomfortable distraction to the entire sport.
It is an issue that won’t quickly disappear. In four weeks time, Chambers’ autobiography will appear, providing- so the PR machine claims- a true insight into the rise, fall and
attempted resurrection of a convicted drug cheat. There are tales of suicidal thoughts; of the angst of what has been lost; of the poverty that followed his expulsion, courtesy of his ill-fated association with San Francisco’s Balco Laboratories.
Next Saturday in Sheffield, Chambers will take his place within the legitimised fold of UK Athletics. The selection trials for March’s European Championships, incorporated within the Aviva UK Championships, are open to all who can wear a British vest. While the Londoner, now 30, has been excluded from many major meetings- including last Saturday’s International in Glasgow- as well as the Olympic Games, he is entitled to be chosen for Turin and should, on present form, have little trouble in punching his ticket.
And that, says Craig Pickering, is something his domestic rivals will just have to deal with, even though Chambers claims he will not accept a spot on a GB relay team if he is not wanted. Regardless of the personal indignation of his many detractors, there must come a point where, for the good of all, the focus is placed squarely on winning medals in 2012 rather on an individual who, bar a legal U-turn, will not be there.
“I think I did get caught up with the whole Dwain issue last year, right up to the Olympics,” admits Pickering, whose criticism of the former outcast has escalated into a running feud. “And I don’t think I was the only one. You were getting questions about it. I suppose I got involved. And it did creep into my thought process in training and competition. So I think this year,” he adds, “one of the things I have to do is put it to one side and run my own race.”
It’s not as if the UK’s leading sprinters have not had time to adjust to Chambers’ occasional presence. His two-year suspension ended in 2006. “It’s not my decision,” Pickering concedes of the possible relay quandary. “My job is just to run.”
Meanwhile, the head of the umbrella body that represents the interests of the UK’s Olympic competitors expects the country’s new anti-doping body to be more effective in utilising the knowledge of former drug offenders, like Chambers.
Pete Gardner, chief executive of the British Athletes Commission, is backing plans to give the soon-to-be-formed National Anti-Doping Organisation a remit to liaise with law enforcement agencies.
And although the BAC has criticised changes to the ‘whereabouts’ regime that now requires sportspeople to be available for random testing seven days a week, for a full pre-specified hour, Gardner anticipates a shift towards intelligence-gathering.
“Athletes as a whole fought very hard to keep Dwain off the Olympic team but that’s not to say there isn’t a feeling that he’s paid more for his crimes than others have done,” he said. “Part of the reason that he’s been seen not to be bringing information forward is that there hasn’t really been a mechanism for it up until now. ”
NADO has been largely modelled on its established Australian counterpart which regularly mines the sporting community for leads. That, argues Gardner, should allow testing to become more targeted. “We believe each test should be done with a reason behind it. Has someone’s performance level risen dramatically? Is it an at-risk sport? Is there some good intelligence? If so, that’s OK and I think most people would be happy to see that approach.”