Athletics: Britain is toldto be positive: As the curtain falls at the European Championships in Helsinki, doubts surface about the wisdom over Solomon. Norman Fox reports

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The Independent Online
BRITISH athletics, which is supposed to be in the front line in the war against drugs, was yesterday told by the international federation's medical commission chief to stop claiming that a small dose of drugs, such as that taken inadvertently by the promising sprinter Solomon Wariso, is not performance-enhancing.

Professor Arne Ljungqvist, who is also a vice-president of the sport's governing body, said: 'If a test is positive, it shows that what has been taken is performance-enhancing.' But the British team doctor, Malcolm Brown, said that a positive urine sample from Wariso after a race in Gateshead earlier this season had only the 'drug' content of a cup of coffee and would not have had any beneficial effect on performance. Yesterday, Professor Peter Radford, the executive chairman of the British Athletic Federation, announcing that an inquiry into the Wariso affair would take place within a few days, insisted that the substance taken was 'category B', which includes stimulants discovered on the day of an event rather than the more serious drugs taken long-term.

Professor Ljungqvist says the amount of ephedrine in the pick- me-up taken by Wariso, called 'Up Your Gas', is not the point. 'I am not saying that someone who has taken ephedrine in a herbal remedy is as culpable as, say, Ben Johnson. We make a distinction in the lengths of suspension, but ephedrine is, by definition, dope. It's up to the athlete to be sure of what he is taking. The laboratories do not report readings below certain limits. Obviously in Wariso's case the reading was not below the limit.'

Told that the British doctor insisted that the two tablets containing ephedrine that Wariso admitted he had taken would have had no stimulating effect, Professor Ljungqvist said: 'That is a matter of opinion. I'm not saying that ephedrine should be banned completely because it is found in so many things people buy over the counter, particularly by asthma sufferers, but it is unfortunate that the British federation is sending out the wrong message if they say ephedrine in small doses is not performance- enhancing.'

For British athletes, Wariso's withdrawal by the British federation has been like a spectre lurking in the background throughout the European Championships. Everyone wanted to know who was the 'mate' who gave him the garish bottle of pills that is obtainable only in the United States. Speculation was wide-ranging; anyone in the British team who had been to the US over the past year came under suspicion. The bigger the name, the more spectacular the scandal. Athletics is rife with rumours that ephedrine is a masking agent that could conceal other more performance- enhancing stimulants, but Professor Ljungqvist said: 'I see no way in which the taking of ephedrine would hide something else.'

Wariso may have become a victim of the British Athletic Federation's determination to present a spotless image amid much confusion and intrigue. Professor Radford also happens to be chairman of the Sports Council's drug advisory group. It was the Sports Council which gave Wariso, and all members of the British team, a booklet on drugs, including a list of banned substances. For Radford to allow Wariso to compete here possibly would have cast doubts on the federation's determination to be seen to be fully behind the anti- drugs campaign.

The Wariso affair could be a storm in a medicine cup. Certainly, it is one the other British athletes begrudge since over the past week the front-runners who in recent seasons have so successfully dragged athletics away from Britain's post Coe-Ovett decline have come good again, if not quite as successfully as in the previous two European Championships.

By the time Steve Backley went out in midweek todefy injuries, his team-mate Mick Hill, and the javelin favourite, Jan Zelezny, the British team had already suffered the double blow of Wariso's ban and John Regis's withdrawal with injury. Backley is a sort of honorary Finn. His girlfriend is Finnish, which was good enough for the crowd to get behind him when the former world champion Seppo Raty failed with his last throw. Backley milked the situation for every last drop. His was Britain's performance of the championships.

Christie's third successive European 100 metres title took him further into the annals of the greats that include the man who gave him his medal, Valeri Borzov, also a three-times winner. Christie takes his captaincy and reputation seriously, but whoever said he was perfectly balanced (with chips on both shoulders) only pre-empted his latest remark to a French journalist that in Britain he was called British when he won but sometimes 'Jamaican-born' when he lost.

Christie has made a surprisingly quick recovery from the hamstring injury which stopped him running in two meetings before these championships, one of which would have brought him up against the leading Americans, including the world record holder, Leroy Burrell. Cynical thoughts crossed the mind about Christie's desire for that clash. Having predictably and comfortably won the 100m here, he now goes to Zurich on Wednesday to confront the Americans before flying to Canada for the Commonwealth Games.

Unfortunately, beyond 400m, British runners just roll over and die, so it was just as well that the old stager, in company with Colin Jackson and Sally Gunnell, continued to beat the best.