Athletics: Lagat refuses to condemn American

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The Independent Online

As a former team-mate of Marion Jones, Allyson Felix was a suitable candidate to express the prevailing mood in the sport at the Norwich Union International that concluded here yesterday.

"It's unfortunate," said the 20-year-old Olympic 200 metres silver medallist after setting an all comers record on 22.19 sec. She was referring to Jones joining America's Olympic 100m champion, Justin Gatlin, in having tested positive for drugs. "It's tough on the sport to have two such big names involved like this.''

Jones's coach, Steve Riddick, reacted with incredulity. "It would take a dummy to walk into the US Nationals - the devil's home - with EPO in your system,'' he said. "I smell a rat.''

There was also scepticism from Bernard Lagat, the Kenyan-born runner who made his first appearance for the United States here in a 3,000m where he was tracked to the line by Britain's European 5,000m silver medallist Mo Farah.

Lagat, a double Olympic silver medallist, tested adversely for EPO himself in 2003, but avoided sanction when the second sample did not confirm the initial test. "I don't want to be the first to condemn Marion," he said. "We know there can be flaws in the testing system."

Phillips Idowu, with a triple jump of 17.10m, was the only British winner on the second day of an event won by Russia with 349 points, ahead of the United States (312.5), Britain (269) and China (158.5). A downbeat occasion for the home team was characterised in the final race by Graham Hedman's inexplicable error on the last leg of the 400m relay, when he let the baton slip from his hand.

Darren Campbell's decision to retire two days earlier, rather than making his scheduled final appearance in Saturday's sprint relay, prevented any potential embarrassment in having to run with Dwain Chambers. Campbell had objected to Chambers' inclusion in the team that won the European title.

After finishing third in the 100m, Chambers - whose doping infringements have lost Britain two major relay medals in the past four years - maintained that the sport was being "cleaned up''. He did not respond, however, to Campbell's call for him to name the people who had influenced his doping offence. "I'm the only cheat,'' Chambers said. "There's no-one else to blame.''

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