Chambers holds court in first of trial battles

Controversial sprinter is back to his best since drugs ban. Now he must make case for Beijing. By Simon Turnbull in Birmingham
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The Independent Online

So much for the trials, then. It took Dwain Chambers precisely 10 seconds to deal with the small matter of Event 19 on day two of the Aviva National Championships and Team GB selection trials, the men's 100 metres final, Britain's cause célèbre of a speed merchant surging down the home straight of the Alexander Stadium to secure victory.

The tribulations, though, have yet to be resolved for the Londoner, and for the sport that continues to be tainted domesticallyby his historical contribution to the plague of chemical performance enhancement.

It will be up to Justice Sir Colin Mackay in the High Court on Wednesday to determine whether Chambers has a right to a place in the British team in Beijing next month, courtesy of an injunction against the British Olympic Association bylaw which precludes athletes who have served doping suspensions from representing Britain in the Olympic arena.

Still, the one-time European champion has fulfilled his part of the bargain in taking his case to the legal limit, laying claim to a berth in the team in convincing style here yesterday evening. Sir Colin said at the High Court last Wednesday that he expected Chambers to pass his Birmingham test with flying colours, and the 30-year-old did not disappoint.

He was pushed all the way to the line by Simeon Williamson, the reigning European Under-23 champion, but prevailed by 0.03sec in what was his fastest time since serving the two-year suspension he received for testing positive for the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone back in 2003. It was also 0.01sec inside the track record he set in winning his second and last national 100m title here in 2001, and the fastest legal time by a British sprinter for nine years.

"I've done my part," Chambers said, after crossing the finish line and dropping to his knees to kiss the Birmingham track. "I hope that will get me a fair hearing this week. I will respect the judge's decision, but hopefully that will result in me goingto Beijing.

"I've made my mistake and this is me making up for it. I promise to go to Beijing as a clean athlete. It hasn't been easy but I've thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it here. Simeon gave me a run for my money, but I'm very pleased with my time. It only means I'm going to get better and better. Sub 10 seconds? I'm almost there."

Indeed he is. Only three British sprinters have broken 10 seconds for 100m: Linford Christie, Chambers and Jason Gardener. Chambers was the last to do so, with steroid assistance in 2002 and without in Seville in August 1999, in taking the World Championships bronze medal behind Maurice Greene and Bruny Surin. Clearly he is in shape to do so again in the weeks ahead, though whether he will get the chance to beat the clock in Beijing remains to be seen. Until Wednesday at least, Chambers will remain in a state of limbo.

So, for that matter, will British athletics. Tyrone Edgar, who finished fourth in 10.22sec yesterday, behind the third-placed Craig Pickering (10.19sec), will have to await the outcome of the High Court hearing before knowing whether he will be granted an individual spot in the British Olympic team.

With only the first two past the post yesterday guaranteed one of the three berths available for the 100m, Edgar, a winner at the distance at the European Cup in Annecy last month, will have to be content with a relay role if Chambers wins his injunction. The Los Angeles-based sprinter kept his own counsel as he left the track. The only entirely happy man was Williamson, who improved his personal best to 10.03sec, and secured his place beyond doubt. The Highgate Harrier has referred to Chambers as his "sporting hero" but he too declined to comment.

Not since Sebastian Coe crashed out in the 1500m heats in the 1988 trials here has British athletics been gripped by such a contentious Olympic selection quandary. Back then, the Daily Mirror launched a campaign for Coe to be picked ahead of Peter Elliott in the 800m, issuing 'Coe Must Go' badges and crassly lampooning Elliott as a cartoon carthorse. In the event, Coe didn't go to Seoul and the supposed carthorse finished in the medal-winners' enclosure with a silver from the 1500m.

There was a time when Chambers was considered to be a sprinting thoroughbred; as a 22-year-old he won the trials in Birmingham in 2000 and finished fourth in the Olympic 100m final in Sydney, missing a medal by the whisker of 0.04sec. Eight years on, though, his stock has been tainted, having been fuelled in 2002 and 2003 by a Frankensteinian cocktail of chemicals from a Californian laboratory. His case for clearance to run in Beijing is that reinstated doping offenders from other countries will be allowed to compete there, such as Lyudmila Blonska, the Ukrainian heptathlete who tested positive in 2003 for Stanozolol, Ben Johnson's steroid of choice. Sadly, for athletes like Kelly Sotherton, who could potentially lose out to Blonska in the medal stakes in the Chinese capital, there will be no recourse available to claims of discrimination on the grounds of being usurped by a drugs cheat. There were loud cheers when Chambers was introduced to the small crowd before his first-round heat on Friday evening but a more mixed reaction prior to the final yesterday.

There was also a cool reaction from some of his rivals after the race was run, Pickering being markedly reluctant to be embraced by Chambers. There was also a lone cry of "Chambers, you're a cheat" from a spectator sitting in the main stand when the winner stepped on to the podium to receive his gold medal from Ed Warner, the chairman of UK Athletics.

Chambers was also presentedwith some champagne. It remains to be seen who will have the bottle when it comes to the legal crunch in the High Court on Wednesday.