Athletics: Christie case to run and run

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LINFORD CHRISTIE was filming the BBC children's programme Recordbreakers yesterday when he received the news he had been waiting for, contained within an announcement which surprised no one: UK Athletics had cleared the former Olympic champion of drugs charges.

Thus, UK Athletics has absolved itself of any further responsibility in this case, and the possibility of an expensive legal suit, while Christie joins the lengthening queue of other top athletes accused of using the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone and who face further investigation by the sport's world governing body, the International Amateur Athletic Federation.

UK Athletics maintained yesterday they had scrupulously observed their own and the international rule books in Christie's case, despite Christie being allowed to compete for money in Australia in April, nearly two months after his adverse drug test findings.

Extraordinarily, it emerged yesterday that despite being the "prosecuting authority", UK Athletics called no expert witnesses to give evidence in the case. According to one astonished senior official involved with drug testing in international athletics, "You only want to hear expert evidence when you want to contest something."

Jayne Pearce, spokeswoman for UK Athletics, said: "We put forward the same information and evidence as in the Dougie Walker case." Walker, the European 200m champion who tested positive for nandrolone last December, was cleared by UK Athletics, but now faces an arbitration hearing with the IAAF.

As in the Walker case, the disciplinary committee for Christie "concluded that it could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the substance present in the sample was derived from a prohibited substance". It was an explanation unacceptable to the IAAF in Walker's case, and it seems even more unlikely to be acceptable with Christie.

Walker's nandrolone reading was less than 13 nanogrammes per millilitre of sample. Christie's finding was more than 200ng/ml, and came after he had just raced 60m indoors. Pearce said: "The substances and the conditions in both cases were the same."

Pearce also rejected the suggestion that the rules affecting Walker and Christie had changed after the two chemical precursors of nandrolone discovered in both cases had been specifically added to the International Olympic Committee's list of banned substances in the month before Christie's test. "We don't go by the IOC list," said Pearce, "we go by the IAAF list."

The IAAF added the precursers - 19-norandrostenione and 19-norandrosteniol - to its banned list on 19 August, but Prof. Arne Ljungqvist, the IAAF's doping committee chairman, has said that both substances have always been illegal because they are covered by the catch-all clause that bans nandrolone and "chemically and pharmacologically related substances".

It is the third time in Christie's career that he has been "given the benefit of the doubt". In 1988, Christie tested positive for the stimulant pseudoephedrine at the Seoul Olympics, but a disciplinary panel there voted 11-10 against suspending the Briton, who had been promoted from the bronze to the silver medal position in the 100m following the disqualification of Canada's Ben Johnson for a steroid finding.

Then, in September 1997, shortly after announcing his retirement from championship competition, Christie refused an out-of-competition test. The sanction for a refusal is a two-year suspension, but the British governing body decided against banning the 1992 Olympic 100m gold medallist.

Soon after, Christie asked to be put back on the list of athletes available for out-of-competition testing, to enable him to run internationally, as he did in Dortmund in February this year, where he was subjected to the drug test that yielded the adverse findings.

In a statement issued by his management company yesterday, Christie was described as being "delighted that he has been totally exonerated". Istvan Gyulai, secretary of the IAAF, saw things differently. "There is still some way to go," he said, suggesting strongly that the next IAAF Council meeting, in Monte Carlo in November, will refer Christie's case to review.

"All our scientists base their verdicts on thousands of tests conducted over many years, and they have full confidence in that. I don't see any reason to question that," Gyulai said.

"The IAAF rules say that if it is in your body, it doesn't matter where it came from. It is up to the athlete to prove it came from natural sources."

This view was confirmed by the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration in Sport last week, when it upheld a ban on former Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda, another nandrolone case.

Nor is the recent spate of around 20 nandrolone cases - including French World Cup footballer Christophe Dugarry, Olympic judo champion Djamel Bouras, and former triathlon world champion Spencer Smith - that unusual. In 1992, the last year the IAAF published an annual review of drug cases, one-third of all athletics positives were for nandrolone.

Sir Arthur Gold, the sport's elder statesman and a long-time anti-drugs campaigner, was uneasy yesterday with the manner in which UK Athletics was interpreting its rules. "It is a concern that British athletics does not believe that any British athletes have taken drugs," Sir Arthur said.

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