Athletics: Christie in drug `custody' dispute

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The Independent Online
LINFORD CHRISTIE'S defence against the charge that he used the anabolic steroid nandrolone before an indoor athletics meeting earlier this year may have been as simple as to say that the urine sample which tested positive for high levels of the banned drug was not his.

Christie's hearing was held in London on Friday. It is understood that the athlete and his lawyers criticised the chain of custody, the documentation that was supposed to accompany the test sample from the Dortmund meeting to the Olympic-accredited laboratory in Cologne. This would amount to an attack on the fundamental procedures of doping control. With all laboratory analyses being done "blind", urine samples are identified only by code numbers contained on the accompanying paperwork. If the documents are incomplete or significantly flawed, the identity of the offender could be in doubt.

Christie, the former world and Olympic 100 metres champion, was tested after running 60 metres at the German meeting in February. A long-time campaigner against drug use in sport, publicly Christie has not offered any explanation for the drug test findings. The judgment of the three- man disciplinary panel examining his case is expected this week.

Jayne Pearce, a spokeswoman for UK Athletics, confirmed that the chain of custody was discussed at Christie's hearing. However, even if Christie's gambit is successful and he is given the benefit of the doubt, the international precedents are not good. Last week one of Britain's gold medal hopes for the Sydney Olympics, the former triathlon world champion Spencer Smith, lost his appeal in a Canadian court against an international review of his doping case.

Like Christie, Smith tested positive for nandrolone, following his fourth- place finish in last October's Hawaii Ironman race.

At a hearing last April, the British Triathlon Association accepted Smith's defence, which criticised the chain of custody for the urine sample between collection and a laboratory in Los Angeles which conducted the analysis. Smith has been competing ever since.

However, the American authorities who conducted Smith's test have applied to the world body, the International Triathlon Union, to review the case. The Americans accused the BTA of failing to consider all the evidence and of being biased in favour of Smith. "The BTA strongly denies these unfounded accusations," Graham Schuil-Brewer, the BTA's acting chief executive, said.

With the ITU based in Canada, Smith's lawyers sought to block the review in the courts. But in a judgment released last week, Judge Marion Allan dismissed Smith's petition. The ITU appeals board, Judge Allan wrote, "should be given the opportunity to interpret and apply its own rules." The international hearing is expected to be held on 22 September.

If the ITU rules against Smith he could be banned for two years and so miss next year's Olympic Games. The parallels with Christie's case, and the position of UK Athletics, are obvious. Senior officials at the International Amateur Athletic Federation are becoming increasingly impatient with the manner in which the British body is dealing with its doping cases. If, as seems likely, UK athletics opts against banning Christie, the IAAF will demand that its own arbitration panel examines the evidence.