All silvers are equal, but some are more equal than others, as Dwain Chambers discovered last night as he marked his second comeback by finishing joint runner-up in the World Indoor Championships 60 metres.
Chambers, whose shunning by European promoters meant he had not raced in earnest since winning his place at the trials on 9 February, defied his many critics in producing a personal best time of 6.54 seconds to finish marginally in the wake of the pre-championship favourite Olusoji Fasuba of Nigeria, who claimed gold in 6.51sec, and – after a determination that took fully five minutes – exactly alongside the former world 100m champion Kim Collins.
But while the Chambers silver was an exact equivalent as far as Collins was concerned, it held a markedly lower value for UK Athletics than the two others contributed earlier in the evening by Jeanette Kwakye and Kelly Sotherton in the 60m and pentathlon respectively.
Kwakye's unexpected achievement was heartily acknowledged by the UK Athletics chairman, Ed Warner, who leant over the advertising hoardings to applaud her; Chambers' remarkable performance generated no such celebration.
The UKA attempt to ban the 29-year-old former European 100m champion from the trials – not on the grounds that he had taken drugs, because he had already served his two-year ban for that and returned two years earlier, but on the hazier grounds that he had disrespected the sport with his subsequent comments – was doomed to failure on legal grounds. And Chambers' response – decisive victory in Sheffield, followed by a global medal – has made it appear even more gauche in retrospect.
It was a measure of the controversy that Chambers has provoked that in the wake of last night's final not one photographer followed the jubilant Nigerian on his lap of honour. Each one had gathered in a semi-circle around the powerful figure who awaited his result on the big screen.
While Chambers had greeted his victory last month with a war dance of unsuppressed emotion, his latest result was greeted in more moderate terms as he sought out and hugged Collins, smiling broadly.
As for the wave of protest from British supporters that had been feared by the Spanish organisers – well, the travelling fans with their Union flags offered the third UK silver medallist of the night enthusiastic applause.
"I'm delighted," said Chambers. "A silver medal is my gold. It justifies everything I've done. I can move on now and see what's going to happen."
However, he will not be doing anything exciting with his runners-up cheque of $20,000 (£10,000) as that will go straight to the International Association of Athletics Associations, which is still owed $180,000 of the $200,000 Chambers won in prize-money during a period in which he subsequently admitted he had taken the banned steroid THG. "I won't get any of the money – nothing at all," Chambers added. "It will all go straight on to the IAAF. I want to carry on running, I hope that something can be sorted out about that."
Chambers had said earlier in the day that he was regarding these Championships as his own personal Olympics. Given his lifetime ban from the Games following his two-year doping suspension, he acknowledged that this event was the closest thing to them he is likely to experience this year. Or perhaps any year.
If Chambers harbours any lingering ambitions of challenging the British Olympic Association's by-law in the High Court, however, he received a further cause for discouragement from Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee.
Rogge voiced support for the BOA stance, and added that the IOC was effectively joining it as he pointed out that, as from this summer's Beijing Games, any athlete receiving a ban of six months or more for doping infringements would be ineligible for the Olympics.
Chambers had arrived in the 6,000-capacity Luis Puig Velodrome wearing a sweatshirt featuring a photo of the man who lost the Olympic 100m title to a positive drug test, Ben Johnson, and bearing the words: "Just Say No."
After winning his heat in 6.69sec he gathered medal-winning momentum in the semi-final, going through as the third-fastest qualifier with victory in a personal best-equalling 6.55sec.
"I have no Olympics in the summer so I'm giving everything here," he said. "If there's a way for me to get to Beijing, I will go for it. If not that's going to be the end of it. It's looking pretty slim, given they have not allowed me to compete in the outdoor circuit. But if they think I'm in a position to be in the team and win a gold we'll see"
He insisted that the widespread condemnation he had experienced this season following UK Athletics' unsuccessful attempt to block him from competing at last month's trials had not undermined his preparations.
"Everybody is against me, and that only helps the other athletes," Chambers insisted. "I just want to be treated fairly. But I'm used to it. I've been going through it for a while. It inspires me to go out and be successful.
"It's bringing attention to the sport, be it good, bad or ugly. I want to use that to bring positives to the sport. Drugs are wrong and you can do it clean," he declared.
You certainly cannot fault the message, even if you suspect there are some within UKA who would still be happy to shoot the messenger.
World Championships Results
60m: 1 O Fasuba (Nigeria) 6.51sec; 2= K Collins (St Kitts and Nevis), D Chambers (GB) 6.54; 4 M Rodgers (US) 6.57; 5 V de Lima (Br) 6.60; 6 I Uche (Nigeria) 6.63; 7 S Williamson (GB) 6.63; 8 A Yepishin (Rus) 6.70.
Shot: 1 C Cantwell (US) 21.77m; 2 R Hoffa (US) 21.20; 3 T Majewski (Pol) 20.93; 4 A Mikhnevich (Bela) 20.82; 5 R Smith (Neth) 20.78; 6 D Scott (Jam) 20.29; 7 S Martin (Aus) 20.13; 8 P Sack (Ger) 20.05.
60m: 1 A Williams (US) 7.06sec; 2 J Kwakye (GB) 7.08; 3 T Harrigan (B Virg Is) 7.09; 4 K Gevaert (Bel) 7.22; 5 Y Polyakova (Rus) 7.24; 6 D Osayomi (Nigeria) 7.26; 7 E F Idoko (Nigeria) 7.30; 8 A Joyce (US) 7.37.
Pentathlon: 1 T Hellebaut (Bel) 4,867pts; 2 K Sotherton (GB) 4,852; 3 A Bogdanova (Rus) 4,753; 4 N Dobrynska (Ukr) 4,742; 5 A Skujyte (Lith) 4,655; 6 K Tyminska (Pol) 4,580; 7 T Chernova (Rus) 4,543; 8 L Blonska (Ukr) 4,474.Reuse content