Athletics: Village left in despair

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The Independent Online
THERE WAS a mixture of anger, frustration and shock among England's athletes at the Commonwealth Games yesterday as they woke up to hear the news confirmed that Paul Edwards and Diane Modahl had tested positive for drugs.

Anger that they are not being kept informed of what is happening, frustration because the publicity surrounding the cases is detracting from their efforts, and shock that Modahl, one of the longest-standing members of the team, and Edwards, one of the most popular, should have used drugs.

Athletes walking off the track on Wednesday to be told that Modahl had been sent home were stunned. 'I can't believe it,' said the 10,000 metres runner Suzanne Rigg, a former clubmate of Modahl. 'I heard someone wailing this morning and wondered who it was. It must have been Diane.'

Rob Denmark said: 'I count them both as my friends and I am surprised they are involved in something like this.'

At least one senior member of England's team is contemplating her future in the sport. 'If it's true someone like Diane has taken drugs you wonder who else is doing it,' she said. 'It brings everyone under suspicion. At the moment, I'm wondering why I bothered for the last 10 years.'

Modahl is a member of the so-called 'God squad', a group of half a dozen British athletes who hold daily religious services at major events. On Monday, she signed a get-well card for Edwards, who was being treated for a bowel complaint at a local hospital. When it emerged on Tuesday that he had failed a drugs test, she said she would not have signed the card 'if I'd known he was involved in something like that'.

The 20-stone Edwards was the lovable eccentric of the team, better-known for his abilities at the dinner table than in the shot-putt circle. His nickname among his colleagues was 'Piggy'.

Edwards had made little progress, always underachieving in major championships. He always claimed it was because his rivals were all on drugs and he was not. He regularly trained with top throwers in the United States. 'They said I would be as good as they were if I used drugs,' he once told me. 'But I would never do that. I told them that if they failed a test it was one paragraph in USA Today. If I failed it was front-page news.'

Edwards tested positive at the European Championships in Helsinki earlier this month and it was revealed yesterday that he had also failed an out- of-competition test administered by the Sports Council last week. Tests on second samples are awaited in both cases.

The empty seats at the Centennial Stadium are a stark reminder of what a major drugs scandal can do to a sport. Canadian athletics has never fully recovered from the Ben Johnson affair in 1988.