Athletics: Walker suspended in a drugs `nightmare'

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The Independent Online
DOUG WALKER'S hopes that he would have no case to answer following the adverse findings shown up by a doping test last December vanished yesterday.

The European 200 metres champion was suspended pending a disciplinary hearing after the UK Athletics drug advisory committee announced - belatedly - that there was enough scientific evidence to warrant further investigation. If the suspension is upheld, Walker faces the maximum ban of two years.

The news was broken to the 25-year-old Edinburgh athlete at around 9.30am as he travelled to a press conference at the Law Society building in Chancery Lane - a venue that could turn out to be entirely appropriate if, as seems likely, this case becomes a matter of protracted legal wrangling.

Looking dazed and close to tears, Walker described the situation he now found himself in as "a total nightmare". He has always maintained his innocence since a urine sample taken in an out-of-competition test on 1 December revealed metabolites - processed traces - of nandrolone, a banned steroid.

The initial findings reduced the former Scottish schoolboys and Heriot's FP rugby player to tears, and he confessed that he had cried again yesterday as he passed on the latest finding to his father, David, back home in Edinburgh.

"I am shocked," Walker said. "I never thought things would go this far." He repeated his assertion that he was innocent, but admitted that he did not have an explanation for the findings. "Like many other athletes, I have used protein supplements, but everything I have taken has been well guided," he said. "There is no reason why there should have been an adverse finding. It's quite ironic because I was always dead against drugs. I was always one of the cynics when I heard people denying they had taken stuff."

Asked if he had a message for people back in Scotland, the man who had carried the flag of St Andrew at last year's Commonwealth Games responded: "Keep the faith. It may take a few months, but I will be cleared. You have got to believe that when you are innocent."

Walker has already dipped into his savings to hire legal advice. Now, as his legal representative Nick Bitel observed yesterday, things start to get really expensive. If the hearing - for which there is no date yet - upholds his suspension, Walker will have to organise an appeal hearing and, perhaps, further legal challenges.

Diane Modahl, currently seeking half a million pounds worth of damages from the now defunct British Athletic Federation after having her drug ban overturned on appeal, has spent more than pounds 450,000 on her legal fees thus far.

Walker, who lives at home with his parents, does not have that kind of money. He does not even own a car, although he did remark yesterday that his mother Janet had a B reg Honda Civic that might fetch pounds 300. It was a rare moment of levity in what was a traumatic experience for him.

"This is just the beginning, not the end," said Bitel, who said that nandrolone metabolites could be present in urine for numerous reasons, either occurring naturally, or as a result of the ingestion of legal supplements.

In the last week Bitel, who expressed anger yesterday that the findings of the original UK Sports Council test had still not been communicated to Walker, said he had contacted the president of the Spanish athletic federation, Jose Maria Odriozola,a professor of microbiology, who is refusing to proceed with a doping case involving the Spanish pole vaulter Dana Cervantes. He says the presence of nandrolone metabolites in urine is no proof of wrongdoing.

However, such assertions are no more than intriguing theories for the pale figure who sat and suffered yesterday.

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