Chambers strikes gold on way to Project Bolt

Controversial British sprinter speeds to European Indoor title and sets sights on world No 1.
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The Independent Online

Well, Dwain Chambers did say in these pages last week that he was coming here to emulate what happened in this northern industrial city in The Italian Job. It took the British speed merchant 6.46 seconds to claim his gold from the 60 metres sprint strip in the centre of the Oval Lingotto on the final day of the European Indoor Championships. In the film the British gang were left hanging over a cliff with their cache of gold bullion. As Chambers collected his chunk of precious metal and prepared to make off with it, his future was not entirely certain but he was not quite in the same precarious position.

In securing his continental title, backing up the European record-breaking 6.42sec that he ran in the semi-finals on Saturday, the reinstated doping offender gave emphatic confirmation that at the age of 30 – four years after completing his drugs ban – he has struck his richest seam of sprinting form. Making sure of the gold rather than risking a false start with a shot at Maurice Greene's 11-year-old world record (6.39sec), Chambers held himself momentarily in check in his blocks before blitzing to a decisive victory. He crossed the line 0.10sec ahead of Fabio Cerutti and Emanuele Di Gregorio, the Italians who took silver and bronze, both clocking 6.56sec. Chambers' British team-mate, Simeon Williamson, finished a tantalising 0.01sec out of the medal frame in fourth, with Craig Pickering fifth in 6.61sec.

The supreme irony is that Chambers happens to be running faster now than he ever did with the kind of laboratorial tinkering that would turn your average Dr Jekyll into a Mr Hyde. Asked whether he might be benefiting from any residual effects of the 18 months he spent being pumped full of the products of Victor Conte's Balco drugs factory, between 2002 and 2003, the Belgrave Harrier maintained: "I've always been a naturally fast athlete. This is something I should have been doing anyway." To those who would question whether he might be powered by something other than natural talent, Chambers said: "I'm not failing any drug tests. I'm doing my sport clean. I just hope people will let the past be the past now."

The question of where the Italian Jobber goes from here remains to be clarified. The newspaper serialisation of Chambers' autobiography has certainly ruffled influential feathers. The governing body of track and field, the International Association of Athletics Federations, is to consider whether he might be deemed to have brought his sport into disrepute.

A spokesman for the IAAF said: "He is eligible to run, but the content of the book is a cause for concern and we will be looking into that at our council meeting in three weeks."

A rap on the knuckles would appear to be more likely than a demand for the lump sum of the £120,000 that Chambers still has to repay in prize-money that he won while under the influence, as it were, and the threat of an abrupt end to his life in the competitive fast lane. Chambers has a signed agreement with the IAAF and with UK Athletics to pay back the bill in instalments, 25 per cent of all prize-money he has earned since his two-year suspension came to an end in 2005 – the latest being a £2,500 bonus for breaking Jason Gardener's British record in the semi-final on Saturday. "It's all down in black and white," he said.

The chances are that Chambers will be clear to challenge Usain Bolt at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin in August. Last night, though, after standing on the top of the podium with the national anthem in the air, he was content simply to savour his Turin gold. "It's just good to get back on the medal rostrum again and start re-writing my name in the history books for the right reasons," he said.

Chambers lost the European 100m title he won in 2002 after failing his drugs test a year later. His success here yesterday was a first for Britain – the first individual gold-medal winning performance in an international championship by a British athlete with a doping conviction. It was hailed by Charles van Commenee, the new head coach of UK Athletics, as an exemplary achievement.

"Dwain is drug-free," the Dutchman said. "He has been tested every day here. It makes you wonder why anybody would need to take drugs. It sends a message that you can win and break European records in the proper way."