Athletics: Uncertain future for the girl who had world at her feet

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The Independent Online

On the balmy evening of 28 July Christine Ohuruogu and Marion Jones both departed the Crystal Palace track in a state of disappointment. Ohuruogu finished last in the 400 metres and Jones was beaten to the line in the 100m at the Norwich Union London Grand Prix. Neither has competed on a track since. When they will do so again remains to be seen.

In Ohuruogu's sorry case at least, the question might be whether she will be seen on a track again. The Commonwealth 400m champion has been left so "utterly devastated and completely heartbroken" by the one-year ban she has received from a UK Athletics independent disciplinary committee that she is considering her future in athletics.

Her state of mind is understandable. Her punishment for missing three drugs tests means she will not be eligible to compete in a major outdoor championship until the World Championships in Berlin in August 2009, unless she can overturn an automatic British Olympic Association ban on athletes found guilty of doping-related offences and become eligible for the Beijing Games in 2008.

Just six months ago, Ohuruogu had the athletics world at her feet. She had beaten Tonique Williams-Darling, the Olympic and world champion from the Bahamas, to win the Commonwealth 400m crown in Melbourne. At 21, the young woman from Stratford was looking a good bet to become the face of the 2012 London Olympics; not just a homeland 400m winner like Cathy Freeman in Sydney in 2000 but a home-town golden girl.

Now, having turned 22, the former England age-group netball international faces a fight to get her running career back on track. With a linguistics degree behind her and the prospect of a three-year gap to her next major competition, the temptation to pursue another profession is obvious.

Ohuruogu, though, can take heart from the case of Mark Lewis-Francis, who last month won an appeal to the BOA to overturn his automatic ban from Olympic selection. They accepted the sprinter had not taken cannabis to enhance performance, following the public warning he received after testing positive in March last year.

Given that the UK Athletics disciplinary committee went to great lengths to stress that, in their opinion, Ohuruogu had been guilty of nothing more sinister than "forgetfulness" (adding, "this is undoubtedly a harsh sanction for the minor degree of fault attributed to a talented young athlete who had no intention of infringing the anti-doping rules"), it seems likely that the BOA would look on her case in a favourable light. Unlike the shot putter Carl Myerscough and the pole vaulter Janine Whitlock, who both had appeals rejected, Ohuruogu does not have a positive drugs test on her record.

Neither does Marion Jones, since the negative result of the B sample she gave at the US Championships in June countered the positive finding for erythropoietin in her A sample. Jones could have returned to competition as a member of the US team at the end-of-season World Cup in Athens this weekend but has chosen to stay home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The negative urine sample might have eased the immediate threat to Jones' career, but it remains to be seen how many European promoters will dig into their budgets to have her featur-ing on their bills next summer.