It is four years now since Dwain Chambers last experienced the European Cup. On that occasion, in June 2002, he ended up being dunked in the steeplechase water jump at the Parc des Sports in Annecy. As he sat half-immersed, holding the trophy in one hand and a Union Jack in the other, it was suggested to the captain of Britannia's track-and-field men's team that he now ruled the waves. "Britannia rules the waves," he pondered, chuckling. "That's good, man."
It later emerged that Britannia's fastest had in fact been waiving the rules, or attempting to do so. In August 2003 Chambers tested positive for tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), a "designer" steroid. He was given a two-year ban. Having since confessed to using THG in 2002, his performances from that summer are in the process of being formally annulled by the International Assoc-iation of Athletics Federations - among them his winning 100m in Annecy. The loss of the eight points from that victory would drop the British men's squad from first to third in the revised team result for the 2002 European Cup.
It is with the most ironic sense of timing, then, that the captain who cost his team the trophy should be making his return to inter-national duty for Great Britain at this year's Euro-pean Cup, which takes place in Malaga on Wed-nesday and Thursday. The excellent 10.07sec that Chambers recorded in his comeback race, in the wake of Asafa Powell's world record-equalling 9.77 at Gateshead a fortnight ago, has earned the 28-year-old selection for the 100m. Whether he will be asked to perform the captain's role remains to be seen.
"It's a good question," Dave Collins, the performance director of UK Athletics, mused. "To be honest, it has not even occurred to me. I would much rather anticipate having that challenge if and when we won the cup. I have no captains nominated for the men's or women's team. I am looking for is a team full of captains, with each one motivating himself, or herself."
Nevertheless, if the British men were to emerge victorious in Malaga, Collins would have to sel-ect a captain to collect the trophy. As a returning drugs offender, surely Chambers would not be considered? "No," Collins said, "I'm not saying it's a 'no'. But it's certainly not a 'yes'. I will enjoy that challenge if it comes."
As well he might. Collins' first competition in overall charge of Britain's athletes was the European Cup in Florence last year, when the men - five times winners - slumped to seventh place and suffered the formality of relegation from the Super League section. They were reprieved only when it was discovered that the new Malaga track had been built with nine lanes.
As for Chambers, he is looking to make the most of his second chance. Having flown back to the top of the European rankings, he will be anxious to keep ahead of the Frenchman Ronald Pognon on Wednesday. Together with Francis Obikwelu of Portugal, Pognon has emerged as a strong contender for the European Championship 100m title that Chambers has set his heart on regaining in Gothenburg in August.
For his part, Collins has no qualms about the crestfallen former captain being granted another opportunity in a Great Britain vest - an invitation that was extended to the shot putter Carl Myerscough and the pole vaulter Janine Whitlock after they had served their drugs bans. "You can have an opinion about what the rules should be," Collins said, "but the rules are the rules. You pick a team within them to do the best that you can.
"Dwain is not the devil incarnate. I have no problems talking to the guy. I don't think there's been a time when I have sat him down and said, 'You are clean aren't you?' But there's been a time when I have looked him in the eye and said, 'You realise the challenges of coming back? And one of those challenges is that you have to be cleaner than clean'.
"There are very vigorous testing requirements that Dwain has had to meet just to be eligible for competition again. I don't lie awake at night checking whether he has passed his last test."