Scorn from a fallen star

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The Independent Online
AS CRIES of disgust over the Olympic drugs scandal echoed around British athletics, one man was following the affair from the other side of the Atlantic with somewhat different emotions.

For David Jenkins, the former European 400-metres champion, the ban on three British athletes was an example of the sporting establishment creating scapegoats in an attempt to prove that the Olympic Games are squeaky- clean when it comes to drugs.

Illegal drug-use is a subject which Jenkins knows something about. He is on probation following 10 months in a Californian prison after being caught at the centre of a multi-million-dollar operation smuggling steroids, real and fake, from Mexico to the US. He was sentenced to seven years, but was released early after he agreed to supply information about others.

What upsets Jenkins is what he calls the 'hypocrisy and double standards' of the regulators. He points out that some drugs are banned, but others are not; some drug-users are caught, yet many other athletes escape detection year after year, and some can disguise steroids with masking agents. He believes that the authorities eject athletes from the Olympic Games as a public relations exercise, to convince sponsors that they are taking a tough stance on drugs.

'It is a complete mess,' he told the Independent on Sunday from his office at a health-product company near San Diego. 'Almost all athletes are using variations of pharmaceutical intervention, of some sort or another.'

He claims that a plethora of substances which are not banned can greatly enhance an athlete's performance. 'For example, you can raise the body's ability to transport oxygen by using a (legal) over-the-grocery-store-counter product, sodium phosphate. You just take four grams a day for three weeks. It increases the body's ability to bind oxygen in the blood. You can get more oxygen to your muscles, and go faster for longer.'

Jenkins becomes contrite when he discusses his steroid-trafficking offences. With equal apparent shame, he admits that he took drugs before the 1976 and 1980 Olympics but got away with it. 'I broke the rules. I cheated. I acknowledge that. I accept it. It was wrong. Given the circumstances again, I wouldn't do it.'

Cheating did not appear to work. He won his European title, an Olympic silver medal with the British relay team and a UK 400- metres record before popping a single steroid. If anything, drugs seem to have slowed him down.

He believes that the punishment faced by the three Britons - a life ban from the Olympic Games - is unreasonably harsh. He is scornful of Sebastian Coe, the Olympic gold medallist turned Tory MP, who denounced drug-taking last week as 'strictly unnecessary', observing that he won his own medals through 'hard work and natural ability'.

'Get off your horse] Get out of here, Sebby]' Jenkins said. 'How about some compassion? You are pontificating . . . You want to be on the IOC (International Olympic Committee). You are a Member of Parliament. You've got an axe to grind.'

He believes the intense pressure of competing at the Olympics should be taken into account. 'The reality of the matter is that the pressure is such that people are going to look for the edge. To get to the Olympic Games, athletes have got to be obsessive compulsives. They are going to look for every angle they can to try to improve. They are dedicated, devoted, focused, driven individuals. It's an ego need.'

(Photograph omitted)