Athletics: Modahl and British officials question test: Banned runner says 'material changes' appeared in sample following initial drug test and requests hearing within 30 days

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The Independent Online
DIANE MODAHL, whose follow- up drug test in Lisbon was announced yesterday as being positive, has reasserted her innocence and challenged the way in which her sample was handled.

In a statement issued through her lawyer, Modahl - who is suspended and now awaiting a hearing with the British Athletic Federation - says that 'material changes' were noted in her sample since the initial test following a meeting in Lisbon on 18 June.

'This,' the statement says, 'raises serious questions as to compliance with International Amateur Athletic Federation guidelines in relation to the storage and treatment of samples pending analysis. The IAAF has yet to give an explanation for those changes.'

The two expert witnesses to Tuesday's test in Lisbon cast doubt by implication on the way the sample had been looked after. Dr David Cowan, head of the Sports Council's testing laboratory at Chelsea, and his predecessor, Professor Arnold Beckett, confirmed in a report to the IAAF that the testing of the second part of the urine sample had been carried out correctly, and was comparable in its findings with the reported findings of the first sample.

But they noted that the pH reading of the urine had changed from that given at the time of the initial test. They also remarked that the sample had 'a high odour'.

Malcolm Brown, the British team doctor who was present at the Lisbon laboratory at Modahl's request, said when the second positive test was announced that he did not consider Modahl was guilty of any offence.

'Having seen the results of the analysis and discussed things with analytical experts,' said Brown, a consultant surgeon at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, 'it is my personal, medical opinion that Diane Modahl is innocent of any doping offence. There are a number of findings which just do not add up.'

He added last night that his conviction stemmed from more than the doubts expressed about the handling of the sample in Modahl's statement. 'It doesn't all hinge on that,' he said. 'There are other things. It is far too simplistic to suggest that the finding of testosterone in a urine sample is proof of a doping offence.

'I am confident that Diane will prevail with her case at a hearing. Her confidence comes from her absolute knowledge that she is innocent of any offences. I can assure you that this is not in any way a PR exercise.'

The IAAF spokesman, Christopher Winner, described Brown's initial comments as 'both premature and irresponsible,' and as contributing to hearsay evidence. In response, the IAAF has taken the unusual step of releasing the details of Modahl's sample, which, according to Winner, confirmed the 'astounding' levels of testosterone detected in the first test.

The level of testosterone is measured by establishing its presence in relation to another hormone, epitestosterone. Normally, the ratio is 1 to 1. A ratio of up to 9 to 1 for men and 6 to 1 for women is allowed in athletics. The test which resulted in Ben Johnson being banned for life showed a ratio of 10.3 to 1. Modahl's ratio was 42 to 1.

'Clearly the IAAF has no explanation for this astounding ratio, nor is there any question that doping procedures were mishandled or phials tampered with,' Winner said.

There has been widespread speculation that Modahl's high testosterone ratio might have been the result of a medical condition. Such a theory was cast into doubt yesterday by Dr Mike Turner, the former director of medical services for the British Olympic Association and now chief medical officer for the Lawn Tennis Association and the British Ski Federation.

'I don't know of a medical condition which would produce that level of testosterone,' he said. High levels of testosterone, he added, were sometimes produced by congenital conditions, but these would show up every time an athlete was tested. Higher levels of testosterone could also be produced through conditions such as malignant tumours and ovarian cysts, but these generally fell within the ratio levels regarded as legal.

'If you have a malignant tumour, you're not normally in a position to perform to a high level,' Dr Turner said. 'If there was a serious medical condition involved here you would expect the athlete to be receiving hospital treatment.'

The case of the 16-year-old sprinter who tested positive in 1989 for a high level of the male hormone HCG, and who was subsequently discovered to have a malignant tumour, did not involve a ratio approaching 42 to 1.

While Modahl, who has requested a hearing with the British Athletic Federation within 30 days, is preparing her defence, the BAF management board was last night meeting in emergency session to decide whether or not to withdraw the British women's team from the World Cup from 9- 11 September. Their qualification is dependent on Modahl's 800 metres victory in the European Cup - and if Modahl is eventually banned for four years, that performance, coming as it did after 18 June, will be invalid.

There has been pressure on the BAF to withdraw. The IAAF's spokesman called attention yesterday to 'the detrimental publicity this entire affair has provoked'; Sir Arthur Gold, honorary chairman of the BAF drug advisory committee, said the British women should be pulled out given the second positive test.

'My own opinion is that all of Modahl's performances since she took the drug test are now null and void,' Gold said. 'In that case she scored zero points in the European Cup and Britain's women are no longer eligible to compete in the World Cup.'

But until Modahl has had her hearing, and a possible further appeal to the IAAF, she is technically innocent of any offence, and any withdrawal would appear to judge her prematurely.