Just before noon yesterday, he was back. Running in lane three of the sprint strip in the centre of the National Indoor Arena, in heat one of the men's 60m at the Birmingham Games, Dwain Chambers was back on track.
Short of stopping off down the road at Solihull and running round the car park of UK Athletics' headquarters, the former European 100m record-holder could not have thrown down a more direct gauntlet to those charged with the domestic governance of track and field. Virtually in their back yard, Big Bad Dwain was serving high- speed notice that he was not going to be intimidated out of the sport.
Sure, he was back with a tarnished record, but then it was the same story when he made his comeback last time round, after serving a two-year ban for using the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone. There was no great moral crusade against him by the national governing body back then, in June 2006. Quite the opposite.
No sooner had Chambers charged down the home straight at Gateshead Stadium, clocking an impressive 10.07sec in the wake of Asafa Powell's world-record-equalling 9.77sec 100m run, than the UK Athletics selectors were rolling out the welcome mat, inviting him to run for Britain at the European Cup in Malaga.
"Dwain is not the devil incarnate," Dave Collins, UKA's performance director, pointed out for good measure when his name was announced at the top of the teamsheet.
This time the perception has changed. Such has been the opposition voiced by Niels de Vos, the chief executive of UK Athletics, in recent weeks that it came as something of a surprise yesterday to find that Chambers had not developed a pair of horns during the time he spent away from the track world in a vain attempt to make the American football grade with the Hamburg Sea Devils.
De Vos has made it clear he does not want the villainous cheat tarnishing the Norwich Union World Trials and UK Championships in Sheffield next weekend, let alone besmirching a Great Britain vest at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia from 7 to 9 March.
The trouble is, according to the world governing body of the sport, the International Association of Athletics Federations, there are no grounds to preclude Chambers from competition simply because he was not subjected to a drugs test between November 2006 and last month. The fact is that he was never removed from the IAAF's testing list because he never tendered a letter to either the global body or to UK Athletics announcing his retirement from athletics. He also continued to inform the IAAF of his whereabouts, in case they wished to test him.
Thus, when the 29-year-old Londoner breezed to victory in his heat yesterday, stopping the clock at 6.70sec – 0.20 inside the qualifying time for Sheffield – he became fully eligible to race at the trials a week today. Not that he is guaranteed to be there, UK Athletics having indicated their intention to preclude him on the grounds that he has not – or had not, until the turn of the year – been on the domestic drug-testing register since 2006. Chambers' solicitors have threatened to take the matter to court if he is barred from racing in the Steel City.
"I'm just going to let my legs do all the talking and let the lawyers do all the negotiating," the man himself said, still catching his breath at trackside. "Hopefully we can come to a mutual agreement. I'd like to think De Vos will want to do what's best for himself, me and athletics, in terms of me wantingto go out and compete.
"There's nobody to blame but myself for what I did. It was my mistake, and because of my actions it's going to affect me for the rest of my athletics career. But I've come to terms with that. I'm here to prove that I can do it clean.
"I want to use myself as an example of that. I'm here to show what positive things I can do to help improve the sport."
UK Athletics might not see it the same way, but it seems they will have to see their way to allowing Chambers to race next week, having withdrawn his name from the UK Sport drug-testing register on the mistakenpresumption that he had retired from athletics.
"I'm back on the drugsregister now," Chambers said. "I was tested three weeks ago. I never took my name off the register. That was their decision. Unfortunately, because of that, it's left us both in a sticky situation. I'm trying to be diplomatic here. I don't want tohinder my chances of getting to the trials. I believe I'm in good shape to go and do well at the World Indoors."
To make sure of getting to the World Indoor Championships, Chambers would need to finish first in the final at the trials,and Craig Pickering will start favourite to claim that, having clocked 6.57sec in Glasgow last weekend. There is a second place available in the British team but that is at the discretion ofthe selectors.
Still, at least Chambers has achieved the qualifying time for Valencia, 6.65. In his semi-final yesterday he improved to 6.62, then proceeded to win thefinal in 6.60, breaking his own meeting record.
For De Vos and for UK Athletics, who declined to issue any comment yesterday, the whole affair is threatening to turn into something of an embarrassment. The chief executive is determined to rid the sport, on the domestic front at least, of the shadow that drugs has cast over it – a highly commendable goal but one that needs to be achieved with an even hand. Unlike Chambers, Carl Myerscough received an invitation to compete in Sheffield next week. The shot putter tested positive for a cocktail of banned drugs in 1999 but since his return from suspension he has become a fixture in the Great Britain team.
Both Myerscough and Chambers are precluded from Olympic selection because of a British Olympic Association bylaw barring athletes who have testedpositive for drugs. For the time being, at least. No athlete has ventured as far as to challenge the ruling in court.
"You never know, I may be the first," Chambers pondered at the end of his first day back on track. "I'm going to let my legs do the talking and leave that to the lawyers. If my legs run well enough, I hope to be in a position to warrant my ban being overturned. Of course I would love to compete in Beijing. Any athlete would."Reuse content