Athletics: Three more 'fail tests for drugs'

World Athletics Championships: Opening gripped by frenzy of finger- pointing at 'nandroid' suspects
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The Independent Online
IT WAS in Seville that the first court of the Inquisition was held. Nobody, to paraphrase Michael Palin, expects the Spanish Inquisition these days, least of all in the final year of the second millennium. But the seventh World Championships of track and field got under way yesterday in Seville's presumptiously named Estadio Olimpico (the success of the city's bid to host the 2008 Games will not be known for another three years) with inquisitory fingers of suspicion being pointed everywhere.

The opening ceremony on Friday happened to celebrate the legend of Hercules, the figure Sevillanos claim as the founder of their city. Had the mythical muscleman been one of the 2,000 competitors in the Andalucian capital, the world would have been asking whether he had derived his great strength from nandrolone. There were no drug tests, seemingly, in the days of Greek mythology.

The whole build-up to the showpiece event of the track and field season was dominated by the anabolic steroid that has been catching out either the athletes or the testers, depending on who happens to be telling the story. And even as the action started in the mid-morning sun, the talk on the press benches was of three more athletes testing positive for nandrolone, and of who they may or may not be.

The talk up in the gods, among the powers that be, was of precisely what to do with such a growing list of apparent nandroids. Just a week ago the International Amateur Athletic Federation was talking of hard-line action. On Friday though, Merlene Ottey and Troy Douglas having joined Doug Walker, Gary Cadogan and Linford Christie among those athletes with cases pending, Arne Ljungquist, head of the world governing body's doping commission, said that the recent spate of positive tests could have been caused "inadvertently" by the use of incorrectly labelled food supplements and that punishing athletes could lead to legal problems.

The question is where it will all lead. Certainly, the present Pythonesque state of affairs cannot be allowed to persist for much longer. Walker, watching on television at his Edinburgh home, and Christie, watching from trackside as an accredited coach, must have been wondering how they have been left standing in the dock while Susanthika Jayasinghe has been left free to compete in the 16 months since she tested positive for nandrolone.

The IAAF recommended a two-year ban but the Sri Lankan federation have refused to uphold it. Thus the surprise 200m silver medallist of the 1997 championships settled into her starting blocks in the fourth of the 100m heats yesterday and duly progressed to the second round with a time of 11.42sec in third place.

Simultaneously, in the shot put circle next to Jayasinghe, Aleksandr Bagach was throwing 20.12m to ensure his place in the final. The Ukrainian, who went on to take on the bronze medal last night, shares something with Ben Johnson, whose life ban from the sport the IAAF refused to lift last week. Bagach has failed two drug tests: one for testosterone and one for ephedrine. The latter cost him the gold medal in Athens two years ago but was deemed worthy of a public warning rather than a suspension.

Not many people in the stadium will have known it, because she has shied away from talking about it since her emergence as the world's leading female athlete, but even the star attraction of yesterday morning's opening session, Marion Jones, has fallen foul of the drug-testing procedure. As a 16-year-old high school prodigy she was suspended for failing to turn up for a test. Her stepfather hired a lawyer by the name of Johnnie Cochrane, who won the case for her reinstatement. It was not Cochrane's most famous victory, of course. He was OJ Simpson's lawyer.

Jones did not require legal assistance to overcome the first hurdle in her quest for a quartet of World Championship gold medals in Seville. Conveniently for her, the IAAF decided on Friday to delay the qualifying competition for the women's long jump by an hour, thus affording the American 45 minutes of recuperation between her first two events instead of 15. Jones duly coasted to victory in the opening 100m first-round heat, clocking 11.22sec, and later, in the second round, shattered the championship record - held jointly by Ottey and Gail Devers - with a time of 10.76sec.

The Californian golden girl hardly glittered in the long-jump. Charging down the runway, breaking stride awkwardly and plopping untidily into the sand-pit, Jones stood apart from her fellow competitors as a woman in need of specialist attention. Despite her crude style, she qualified easily enough for tomorrow's final with the third longest jump, 6.81m. She was also happy enough with her performance. "I'm the most confident I've been all year in the long jump," she maintained.

But Jones can hardly be confident of emerging from tomorrow's final with the gold, having not been in the same league, aesthetically or quantifiably, as Fiona May who looked every inch the finished article as she launched herself out to 7.04m, the best jump in the world at sea level this year.

May lost her world title to Ludmila Galkina two years ago but looks a good bet to regain it tomorrow. She has certainly come a long way since the 1993 World Championships, when she made a tearful exit after failing to make it through to the final. She was, though, one of Great Britain's great underachievers in those days. It was not until she moved to Florence and became Italian that May started to fulfil the promise she showed as a teenage prodigy.

She will be joined in the final by one familiar face, Jo Wise, her former British junior team-mate having secured a place with a 6.75m jump. There will, however, be one notable absentee, Heike Drechsler having failed to show up yesterday. Perhaps all of the intrigue in Seville was too much for even a former agent of the Stasi, to take.