Athletics: Christie's fight to clear name

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IT WOULD be hard to imagine worse news for British athletics. The announcement yesterday that Linford Christie is facing a two-year doping ban has sent shock waves through the world of athletics.

Christie, who retired from major competition in 1997, vehemently denied taking performance-enhancing drugs yesterday and said he would fight to clear his name. The 1992 Olympic champion tested positive for metabolites of the banned steroid nandrolone at an indoor meeting in Germany in February and has been suspended from competition. But the 39-year-old said it would be "ridiculous" to take drugs at the end of his career.

"I would have nothing to gain and everything to lose," he said on BBC TV. "I wanted to run for my club so I stayed on the [doping] list because I've got nothing to hide. When I first heard I'd been suspended I thought it was a joke. Then I realised it was true and it was a bit of shock. It sounds like the same old record, everyone saying they are innocent. But I never would take drugs. I am innocent and I am going to clear my name."

Christie won pounds 40,000 in a libel action against a now-defunct magazine last year after it claimed he had used performance-enhancing drugs and he said he was prepared to go to court again. "I spent hundreds of thousands, now lost, to clear my name a few months ago and if needs be I'll do the same again," he said. Asked how he could have failed the test, Christie said he did not know. "I can't dispute they have found something but I can't explain how it was there. They say it could come from red meat but I don't eat red meat," he said.

As the 39-year-old former world and Olympic 100 metres champion waits to here when he will be called to face a disciplinary hearing following his adverse test at a minor meeting in Dortmund on 13 February, athletes who have competed and trained alongside him have come forward in his defence.

Only last Wednesday the European 200m champion Doug Walker was cleared by a three-man committee of all charges after a test indicated metabolites of nandrolone in his sample. They could not be sure that traces of the drug had not occurred naturally.

Dalton Grant, Britain's team captain at this year's European Cup, said: "This is the same thing as Doug Walker. They have tested positive for the same substance. We really need to look into it. The body actually produces nandrolone so that could be something that is triggering it off."

UK Athletics said in an official statement yesterday that it was "concerned that there appears to be an increasing number of tests... that have produced adverse findings of metabolites of nandrolone".

They have called upon UK Sport to conduct a full inquiry into the situation.

Christie is the third British athlete to test positive for the steroid in the last three months. Gary Cadogan, the 400m hurdler, is awaiting a disciplinary hearing by the same trio who cleared Walker.

Dave Moorcroft, the chief executive of UK Athletics, was asked last week what he would do if another British athlete produced an adverse finding involving nandrolone, which is used widely by bodybuilders to improve stamina and muscle power. Moorcroft said that the body of scientific evidence built up before the decision to clear Walker would be "taken into consideration". He also implied that, if the inquiry were being conducted by the UK Athletics, another case might be thrown out before it reached the stage of a full hearing.

In Christie's case, however, there is no such option because the suspension has been instigated by the parent body, the International Amateur Athletic Federation, following an in-competition test on Christie at a meeting under their overall jurisdiction. The case is therefore similar to that of Diane Modahl, who successfully appealed against a four-year doping ban applied after she had tested positive in an IAAF meeting. Ironically, if he had had his way, Christie would now be facing a life ban, something he has always argued should be applied to those found guilty of cheating.