Athletics: Yegorova's victory twists the perspective

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The Independent Online

As Olga Yegorova sprinted to victory in the home straight at the Alexander Stadium yesterday, there was a ripple of spontaneous applause from the small crowd gathered in the main stand. There were no British athletes protesting at her presence.

EPO Cheats Out. That was the message on the home-made banner held aloft by Paula Radcliffe and Hayley Tullett when Yegorova raced in the heats of the 5,000 metres at the World Championships in Edmonton back in 2001.Three days later the Russian won the final amid a cacophony of catcalls.

If Marion Jones and her legal team were searching for crumbs of comfort yesterday, they would have found one in the north Birmingham suburb of Perry Barr, in the diminutive form of the woman who emerged victorious from the 1500m on the opening day of the Norwich Union International match between Great Britain, Russia, China and the United States.

Yegorova is the celebrated EPO escapologist of track and field. She tested positive for erythropoietin on the eve of the 2001 World Championships but escaped punishment by virtue of the technicality that the French testers had neglected to conduct a blood test as a back-up to her urine sample.

Thus the EPO cheat has been free to continue on her way on the international circuit, as she did yesterday, at 34 beating Britain's Helen Clitheroe for pace over the last 150 metres. Jones's positive test, reportedly for EPO, came as news to her.

"I didn't know," Yegorova said, raising an eyebrow. "For EPO?" she queried. "I am surprised. Why a sprinter? I don't understand." The woman from Novo-cheboksarsk clearly knows her erythropoietin from her evening primrose oil; it is a blood-boosting hormone taken to aid endurance, not sprinting speed.

Jones has tested positive for something illegal, in her A sample at least. That much was implicit in the carefully chosen words of Pierre Weiss, the general secretary of the International Association of Athletics Federations. "We have spoken with USA Track and Field, but we are still waiting for what the contra-analysis [the B sample] tells us about this case," he said.

According to some members of the US entourage in Birmingham, a masking agent might be at the heart of the case, rather than EPO.

Not that the details of the Jones case were of much consolation to Clitheroe, consigned to the runner's-up place in the 1500m by Yegorova. The Preston Harrier took a deep breath when asked how she felt about running against the tainted Russian. "Let me think," she said. "I'd like to think that I'm running against people who are clean and that the testing system is working."

The great pity about the great shadow being cast across the track-and-field world is that the honest deeds of decent athletes, who comprise the vast majority of the sport, athletes like Clitheroe, are getting obscured - in some cases from within their own country, it has to be said.

The weekend after Darren Campbell's refusal to join Dwain Chambers on a lap of honour following the 4 x 100m relay team's lone victory for Britain at the European Championships, the ill-feeling continued yesterday. Campbell received a framed print to mark his retirement and Chambers ran the opening leg for a relay quartet who were the only British success of the day.

"Darren's entitled to his opinion, but don't bring up the old dirt," Chambers said, responding to Campbell's plea for him to name those who persuaded him to uproot from London and move to San Francisco, where he became embroiled in the Balco drugs scandal.

"I was the one doing the cheating, nobody else. I was the one who went out there."

Turning to the deepening crisis of drugs in the sport he helped to taint, Chambers said: "I think the sport just has to be patient. We're going through a process in which the sport is cleaning itself up. We just have to be patient and wait for the sport to get on a level playing- field." Not that the Helen Clitheroes of track and field are likely be holding their breath.