There was a bit of a stir at the security gate at Gatwick Airport yesterday as the best of Britain's runners, jumpers and throwers checked their hand luggage through the scanning machines en route to Turin and the European Indoor Championships, which open in the Oval Lingotto tomorrow morning. The security officers could not help stopping and staring and passing comment on the towering presence of one member of the team. For a few fleeting moments, Carl Myerscough, the 6ft 10in shot putter known as the Blackpool Tower, was the centre of attention. Dwain Chambers passed through alongside him virtually unnoticed.
The notorious speed merchant was doing his best to keep his head down, having stirred up a hornet's nest with the serialisation of extracts from his autobiography, Race Against Me in the Daily Mail earlier this week. "I'd rather not comment until I'm finished racing on Sunday," Chambers said, when asked for a response to the news that UK Athletics had launched an inquiry into whether he had breached their athletes' code of conduct by giving rise to such headlines as ‘I was a walking junkie' and ‘I took 300 different drugs' and by telling how he managed to get through airport security in Miami with a bag full of performance enhancing products. And by casting aspersions on the reputations of Christine Ohuruogu and John Regis, and by aiming a stinging broadside at Sebastian Coe too.
The irony, of course, is that Myerscough – like Chambers – also happens to have the black mark of a doping conviction on his curriculum vitae. Back in 1999 he tested positive for what was described as "a cocktail of banned substances." Unlike Chambers, though, he has always protested his innocence. That, his relative lack of success, plus the fact that happens to be resident in the United States have given him a less pronounced profile.
Chambers' revelations were always going to cast a cloud over the European Indoor Championships. That much was clear from the moment the publication date of his book was announced last autumn. For Charles van Commenee, the new head coach of UK Athletics, it was always going to be a poisoned chalice of a mission, taking his team to his first international championship with the cloud of Chambers' involvement in the Balco drugs scandal hanging in the air.
Sadly, it has also overshadowed the other athletes in the British team, not least Mo Farah, the clear favourite for the 3,000m. "I just keep my head down and focus on myself," Farah said, after a press conference with himself and the veteran 400m runner Donna Fraser attracted a grand total of two athletics writers. "Anyway, I only weigh 60kg. I can't say anything about someone like him."