At about 11.45am next Friday, Dwain Chambers will be getting to his mark at the Palau Velodromo Luis Puig in Valencia, ready to follow in the footsteps of one Benjamin Sinclair Johnson. It just so happens that the prize at stake for the newly identified outlaw of British athletics on his controversial return to international competition is the world indoor 60m title that first rested on the muscular shoulders of the most celebrated high-speed drug cheat of them all.
It was in the World Indoor Games at the Palais Omnisports in Paris in 1985 that Ben Johnson first emerged as a world-beating sprinter, winning the 60m final in a time of 6.62sec. Two years later, in successfully defending his crown, as the World Indoor Games was rechristened the World Indoor Championships, the Canadian showed a burgeoning build and turn of speed that neither the record books nor the trackside barriers could contain. He blitzed to victory in Indianapolis in 6.41sec, a world record, andwas travelling so fast that he crashed into the barriers and somersaulted over them.
That summer of 1987 Johnson sped to the World Championships 100m title in a jaw-dropping 9.83sec outdoors in Rome. A year later he took the Olympic 100m crown in Seoul in 9.79sec, before testing positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol and then confessing that most of his past deeds had been powered by drugs.
He served a two-year ban but returned to run for Canada at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, and was preparing for the World Indoor Championships the following spring, in his adopted home town of Toronto when he tested positive for excessive levels of testosterone and was banned for life.
Now 46, Johnson does some private coaching and makes a living from commercial ventures which play on his notoriety: a clothing range called Catch Me and a sports drink called Cheetah Power Surge. In a TV advert for the latter, he is asked: "Ben, when you run do you Cheetah?" He says: "Absolutely. I Cheetah all of the time."
Thankfully for British athletics, Chambers has chosen not to go down that particular route. Having served a two-year ban for using the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone, made a brief comeback in the summer of 2006 (representing Britain at the European Cup in Malaga and at the European Championships in Gothenburg), and then had an unsuccessful foray into American Football, the 29-year-old Belgrave Harrier is back on the track and back in a Great Britain vest. Not that the hierarchy at UK Athletics will be happy to see him wearing the Union Flag vest on the opening day of three at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia.
UK Athletics having failed to bar Chambers from their trials and from their team, the nightmare scenario for the domestic governing body would be the Londoner standing on top of the medal podium singing "God Save The Queen", having succeeded not just Big Bad Ben but also Justin Gatlin, the American sprinter who won the 60m title in Birmingham in 2003, three years before he was caught for excessive testosterone. No British athlete has yet returned from a drugs ban to win a major individual title.
"If Dwain medals I'll be pleased, but on a personal level," Dave Collins, UK Athletics' performance director, said after finalising the Great Britain team in midweek. "It'll be tinged with a lot of frustration and disappointment that we have athletes who should be given longer bans but who circumstances force you to pick, when I would rather use the event as a development opportunity for younger up-and-coming committed athletes."
Judging by the form he showed at the trials meeting in Sheffield three weeks ago, Chambers is certainly capable of finishing in the medal frame. His winning time, 6.56sec, was just 0.01 shy of his lifetime best and he heads to Valencia ranked joint sixth in the world, though with only one rival a significant way ahead of him.
Olusoji Fasuba clocked 6.51sec on the Valencia track on 9 February and looks like the man for Chambers to beat, and for UK Athletics to pin their hopes on. The 23-year-old Nigerian has clearly inherited some family fast-twitch genes from his Jamaican mother, a cousin of Don Quarrie, the 1976 Olympic 200m champion.
Fasuba has an Olympic4 x 100m relay bronze medal and holds the African 100m record, having clocked 9.85sec in the wake of Gatlin's world record-equalling 9.77sec run in Doha in May 2006. Last summer he finished fourth in the 100m at the World Championships in Osaka, behind Tyson Gay, Derrick Atkins and Asafa Powell, so Chambers will have to crank himself up another notch if he is to strike gold in Spain.
The same could be said of Kelly Sotherton, the other big British hope on day one – even with the injured Carolina Kluft absent from the pentathlon. The field includes the woman who finished in between the bronze medal-winning Briton and the victorious Swede in the heptathlon in Osaka last August. Like Chambers, Lyudmila Blonska has a doping conviction on her track record. Back in 2003 she tested positive for stanozolol, Ben Johnson's drug of choice.
Four britons hoping to reign in Spain
KELLY SOTHERTON (Pentathlon)
In the absence of Carolina Kluft, the Birchfield Harrier has a good chance of a global title, though Lyudmila Blonska (Ukraine) and Tatyana Chernova (Russia) are also strong contenders.
PHILLIPS IDOWU (Triple jump)
Ranked third, the inconsistent Londoner is capable of claiming any medal in the final but also of bombing out in qualifying.
CHRIS TOMLINSON (Long jump)
Also ranked third, the towering Teessider is in form to challenge for his first international championship medal.
ALLAN SCOTT (60m hurdles)
Ranked fifth, courtesy of his Scottish record, 7.52sec, the East Kilbride man is a likely medal contender.
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