the monday interview Diane Modahl by Mike Rowbottom
Grosvenor Road in Sale, just south of Manchester, has become ordinary again, and Diane Modahl is glad of it. Just over a year ago, the spruce semi-detached she shares with her husband and manager Vicente ceased to be a home and became something scary, something alien.

Every newspaper carried the picture of Modahl returning early from the 1994 Commonwealth Games after the announcement of a positive dope test. The traumatised figure stepping out of a plane at Heathrow in dark glasses and a baggy yellow jersey was lead item on the Six O'Clock News. And inevitably, the media massed outside her front door.

She found temporary sanctuary at the home of one of her four sisters nearby. But there was no escaping the bewildering events of the next 14 months, during which the former Commonwealth 800-metres champion had a four-year ban confirmed and then lifted on appeal.

That last verdict, announced in July, vindicated Modahl. New scientific evidence convinced a British Athletic Federation panel that the evidence of massive testosterone abuse presented by a Lisbon testing laboratory last year was deeply flawed.

The international governing body remains to be convinced, though, and Modahl faces further arbitration. Money too, is a pressing problem. Costs for her defence have spiralled into several hundred thousands of pounds. Even taking into account the reputed sum of pounds 100,000 she received as an advance for her autobiography, out on Thursday, and savings accrued by herself and her husband, who has managed top international athletes for nearly 10 years, there is a big shortfall on their borrowings. She is now suing the BAF for refusing to contribute to her costs in the wake of declaring her innocent.

"We might as well go to court, because we will not be clear of debt for years and years," Vicente says. At one point they thought they might have to sell their house. David Grindley, Britain's 400-metres record holder and one of Modahl's leading athletes, offered to buy them a terraced house if necessary.

Now, however, her red-brick suburban house, with its rockeries and burglar alarms and burnished railings, is home again. Camera crews no longer clutter its pavements. Reporters no longer sleep at the roadside in their cars. Today, different visitors attend the Modahl household. The doctor. The midwife. At 17 days old, the Modahls' daughter, Imani ("hope" in Swahili) is giving her parents cause for concern with a fluctuating temperature and a faint rash upon her brow. But both parents are happy that they now have something ordinary to worry about.

"Things are little bit better," Vicente says of the past year's trials. Diane nods. "A little bit, yes. But even if we win in the end, we still can't jump for joy because it should never have happened in the first place and we shall always have lost. I will not be able to put the season I have lost back at the end of my career. And neither of us can be the same people we were before this happened. Our lives have been in the hands of strangers for far too long now. We want to be finished with it."

Diane recalls the original hearing last December. "That was a terrible day," she says. "We were so confident going in. Our evidence was so strong that we thought, this farce will be over within hours. And then, bang. What a bombshell.

"When we came back home, we were both suffering. But neither of us could really help each other."

Vicente has never doubted her. And despite stories in some papers intimating that he had given her illegal substances without her knowledge, she has never doubted him. "We both thought, 'what do we do now?' Were we going to get out of this, or was this going to brand us for life? I still can't find the exact words for those feelings."

Modahl, now 29, has a strong Christian faith, established when she began visiting a Pentecostal church as an eight-year-old. Religion was an integral part of her early family life as one of seven children in a terraced council house in the Moss Side district of Manchester. As was sport. Her elder brother Clive was a boxer, reaching the ABA light heavyweight final. Her father, a pastry-maker for Wall's, encouraged her early running by setting up races with local children in a nearby field. Winners were rewarded with Turkish Delight.

By the time Modahl reached the 1994 Commonwealth Games, her talent as an 800-metres runner had earned her richer rewards. She ran the distance in under two minutes many times and was fourth in the 1993 World Championships. She had won the Commonwealth title in 1990 and was favourite to retain it. When the circumstances of her dramatic withdrawal from the Games were made public, she received unprecedented support from fellow British athletes such as Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell and Kriss Akabusi. Her religious beliefs were put to the test. But she does not pretend that her faith was able to carry her smoothly through, particularly in the days after her ban had been confirmed.

"There were times when I was crazy with rage and frustration," she says. "Things would be broken, plants would end up on the floor. I would try and hurt myself, to scratch myself. Sometimes Vicente would have to wrestle with me and hold me down to prevent me doing damage to myself. Once he took a knife from my hand."

Other times she would go upstairs and sing to herself. When she was a child, her father, Sydney, had rigged up speakers all over their house in Moss Side, even down in the cellar where he kept his budgies and odd- job tools, so that he could hear his beloved Ray Charles everywhere.

Modahl would also mimic her own athletic career, going out to a local park and running wildly until her lungs burned. On other occasions, when Vicente persuaded her out for a training run, she would simply stop and return home.

One thing that has helped hold Modahl's life together is the combined honours degree in business and the media that she began in 1993 at the University of Manchester. She is now in her final year.

"It was one of the things which helped me keep my sanity," she says. "I was able to drive away from my home and simply become a student again." She also spent a successful period on secondment in the television newsroom at the BBC North West regional studio.

In her autobiography, which is put together from her and her husband's diaries from the past year, she includes a poem by Margaret Fishback Powers entitled "Footprints". In it, the narrator's life is seen as two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to God. When the narrator inquires of the Lord why only one set of footprints is visible during the worst times of life, the reply comes: "When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you."

"At the time I was trying to understand what was happening to me but I couldn't," she remembers. "I felt too badly let down. But when I read this poem it hit me like a bolt. In my deepest hours of despair, Jesus had actually been carrying me and supporting me. I felt such a strong conviction that gave me so much comfort."

She accepts that there have been times when the footprints might just as easily have been those of her Norwegian husband. From their first meeting, Vicente has been a bedrock of support.

Their story is the stuff of romantic fiction. There was Love At First Sight - at least on his part. His first words on seeing her five years ago in Oslo were: "You have such beautiful, honest eyes. Will you marry me?" She laughed it off. But soon afterwards, when he kissed her goodnight before she took the lift to her hotel room, the feeling was reciprocated. "The doors closed and I almost sank to my knees, weak with excitement," she writes in the book.

Gratification was deferred, however, as their relationship came under intense pressure from two other central figures in their lives - her coach at the time, Norman Poole, and the athlete Vicente managed for nine years, Morocco's multiple world record-holder Said Aouita.

Love triumphed - but not before the Hardyesque convolution of a letter ending it all which she delivered to him, and a last-minute reprieve when, ready to embark on a new job in Singapore, he contacted her out of the blue from New York.

"I was at work when Vicente called me," she writes. "I think I screamed down the phone, I was so happy and relieved to hear his voice again. I told him he must never go away again."

She mollified Poole, who remained her coach for another two years before Vicente took over in 1992. He failed to mollify Aouita, who threw a glass at his head and never spoke to him again after a furious row. On 19 September, 1992 Diane and Vicente were married.

This romance, and the description of the bewilderment, shock, despair and occasional elation they have both experienced in the past year are the best thing about the book. It has, inevitably, the feeling of unfinished business. There is still something to campaign for, and detailed transcripts from her hearings add strongly to her case.

While Diane went into shock at the time, it was Vicente who pursued all options in her defence, even submitting himself to massive doses of testosterone under control conditions to prove an important technical point in her favour.

Today Vicente carries his daughter with practised ease. He undertakes the bottle feeding at night while his wife sleeps. She needs her energy, he says, because she is back in training.

It is too early to say whether Modahl will be able to qualify for next year's Olympics. That will partly depend on when and if the International Amateur Athletic Federation sets up its arbitration.

For her first serious run after having her baby, she chose to return to the playing fields in Withington where she had gone at her most despairing to run until she hurt.

"It felt marvellous," she says, eyes shining. "I had my body back and I felt so strong, so in control. I felt that I was making a fresh start and that I could handle whatever the future would bring, whether that was good or bad."

'The Diane Modahl Story: Going The Distance', published on Thursday by Hodder and Stoughton, pounds 14.99.

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