Jason Livingston, the 100 metres runner, and two weightlifters, Andrew Davies and Andrew Saxton, had already left Spain in disgrace. They were suspended from international competition after drugs tests by the Sports Council earlier this month proved positive.
Livingston, 21, initially returned to his home in Thornton Heath, south London, but slipped away later. David Payne, his uncle, said: 'The whole family feels angry, bitter and hurt. I cried today when I heard at work that Jason had proved positive. The family know he isn't guilty. Jason is very upset . . . he had been preparing for this for months. He didn't like drugs and said he wouldn't take them. He wept when he heard his hero Ben Johnson had admitted taking steroids. Why would he take something like that just before the Olympics?
'Jason had been tested many times before. He was clean and we are sure there has been a mistake.' Mr Payne said his nephew was at a secret location with other family members, and would be lodging an appeal.
Last night, Saxton was at his home in Cowley, Oxford, while Davies, who lives near Newport in Gwent, was said to be staying with relatives in Torquay. Saxton was the only one to brave the press. He said he had instructed solicitors to appeal and insisted: 'I am innocent. I have done nothing wrong.'
It is the absence from Barcelona of Davies, however, that will be most keenly felt. The Welshman was Britain's best hope for a medal in the discipline after a spectacular rise in the world rankings. In 1987 he won a silver medal in the world junior championships and two years later, after a mediocre display in the Seoul Olympics, he became the first British weightlifter in modern times to win a medal in the world championships.
Saxton, also 25, competed in the world junior championships in 1987 and finished eighth in the 100kg class, but has never managed to better that achievement.
The news of Davies's positive test will have delivered a humiliating blow to his family, who helped him train full-time for Barcelona. His mother, Nancy Davies, spoke two months prior to the Olympics of her shock in 1990, when two other Welsh weightlifters, Gareth Hynes and Ricky Chaplin, tested positive at the Commonwealth Games and were stripped of their medals.
'When the news broke in Auckland that there were two Welsh lifters who had tested positive, I never thought it could be Andrew. I know how careful he is with every medicine he takes. He will always go and talk to the doctor before he takes a drug. I didn't feel sorry for the lifters. The only people I felt sorry for were their families.'
The fate of the three athletes evoked little sympathy in the sporting world. Typically, Daley Thompson, the retired decathlon world record holder, was virtually alone in choosing to sail against the prevailing tide of opinion. He spoke up for Livingston. 'He was not doing it in isolation. There are at least three or four people out there who knew what he was doing. We can't say Jason's the only bad guy. We have got to get the whole house in order.'
The general feeling was summed up by the showjumper David Broome when he said: 'They are idiots. How stupid can you be? You shouldn't fool around with things.'
Broome's condemnation was shared by the oarsman Jonny Searle: 'It serves them right, they should be banned for life.' The hockey player Rob Hill spoke of the damaging effect of such high- profile disgrace. 'It disrupts the morale of the whole team. We talk about other teams doing it and think that our guys don't'
Chris Boardman, who the previous day had won Britain's only gold medal of the Games so far, was 'just very disappointed for them, disappointed for the team'.
Dick Palmer, head of the British delegation, said: 'The incidents have caused human tragedy, shock and emotional distress for the competitors themselves, officials around them and their fellow competitors.'
Allan Wells, who won the 100 metres in 1980, offered some insight as to why athletes still take drugs despite the risk of detection. 'If the individual wants to be at the top and he wants to participate in anything that's going, then obviously that individual will do that.'
Robert Key, Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, emphasised the Government's commitment to the fight against drugs. 'Let me make it absolutely clear, there will be no hiding place for British sportsmen or women who resort to drugs in sport. It is quite simply cheating.'
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