Athletics: Steroid making a mockery of sport

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FIRST the king of sprinting; now the queen. The news that Merlene Ottey, the most revered figure in women's sprinting in the past decade, has tested positive for a banned steroid is threatening to turn world athletics into a bad joke. A joke which always has the same punchline: nandrolone.

Like Linford Christie - who provided an adverse test indicating the same substance - Ottey is 39 and reaching the end of a glittering career. Why would she bother?

The International Amateur Athletic Federation's decision this week to challenge a UK athletics finding that Doug Walker, the European 200 metres champion, could not be shown to have taken nandrolone knowingly indicates that politics are at work as the sport's parent body seeks to reassure the wider world that it can keep its house in order.

The contention of the IAAF that the only criteria involved in Walker's case was whether the substance was in his sample appears to be forming a hard line over which Walker's more illustrious forebears will also trip.

But the basis of the UK decision to clear Walker was that metabolites of Nandrolone present in his sample could have come from three substances, only one of which was the banned Nandrolone. Because of the doubt they cleared the Scottish sprinter to compete again.

Another question being asked by those close to Christie is why would an athlete bother to take Nandrolone on the eve of a competition when the advantages of taking the steroid are for long-term muscle building and endurance.

The UK Athletics has already called on UK Sport to mount an independent investigation into findings of nandrolone because of the considerable doubt which surrounds them. However, the IAAF has indicated in the case of both Christie and Ottey that the substances detected cannot have occurred naturally. The fallibility of the tests themselves have now been thrown into doubt.

There are many questions that are likely to be resolved in the coming weeks as two of the biggest names in world athletics seek to clear their names.