At last, a break in the pantomime that is the Dwain Chambers Affair – a chance for the other cast members of track and field to take the spotlight. At the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham yesterday, it was "carry on regardless", otherwise known as the Norwich Union Grand Prix.
There was a world indoor record two-mile run by the peerless Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia of 8 min 04.35sec; there was a clutch of impressive performances by British athletes: Kelly Sotherton pushing Carolina Kluft close in a showpiece three-event challenge; Simeon Williamson staking a strong claim for selection alongside Chambers in the 60m at the World Indoor Championships, clocking a personal best 6.57sec as runner-up to Jaysuma Saidy Ndure of Ethiopia; and wins for Phillips Idowu in the triple jump and Joice Maduaka in the 200m. And yet, despite the action on the track and in the field, there remained one overriding topic of conversation.
It was perhaps just as well that Chambers was not there. Picked for the British team in the World Indoor Championships with the rider of a governing body health warning, barred from the domestic and European arena, and even lambasted by the Leprosy Mission, the sprinter might have taken a microphone and launched into a Kenneth Williams Caesarean impression. You know... "Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!"
It is difficult to have any degree of sympathy with an athlete who once upon a time made the choice to use his body as a high-speed laboratory (mixing a heady cocktail of tetrahydrogestrinone, erythropoieitin, insulin, human growth hormone and modafinil) with the intention of defrauding his rivals, his sport and the watching public. Still, UK Athletics have gone about the business of using Chambers as a vehicle for change with such cack-handedness they have managed to leave him looking like a sacrificial scapegoat.
None of us who have despaired at the passing of false dawns stretching back to the catching of Big Bad Ben Johnson 20 years ago would give anything but a heartfelt welcome to any initiative towards effecting a genuine clean up of the deeply tarnished gem of Olympic sports. If the mission is to be taken in true seriousness, however, it cannot be allowed to carry the ring of the double standard with it.
The mistake of targeting Chambers as an outlaw without having first checked that he was actually eligible to compete at the trials in Sheffield last weekend and at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia from March 7 to 9 can be excused as naivety on behalf of UK Athletics. The routine selection of Carl Myerscough in the British team for Valencia cannot.
Unlike Chambers, the shot putter has never gone off to American football proclaiming that the only way to Olympic gold was through the needle, but he too has a steroid conviction on his track-and-field record. He did not compete at the trials and is not even top of the British rankings in his event, yet was picked without any fuss at all.
Dave Collins, performance director of UKA, seemed genuinely perplexed that Myerscough's selection should be questioned, saying that the 6ft 10in Lancastrian – known as "the Blackpool Tower" – had "remained committed to athletics" and that he was not keeping emerging young athletes off the team. In this brave new world of British athletics, it seems it is possible to be a little bit pregnant when it comes to the conception of doping affairs.
The zero tolerance is rather different in Sweden, where to test positive for drugs is to become a social outcast. That is due in no small measure to the case of Ludmila Engquist. The Swedish people were slow to take her to their hearts when she arrived from Russia with a failed steroid test to her name (for which her ex-husband claimed guilt), but that changed when she overcame breast cancer to win a 100m hurdles bronze medal at the 1999 World Championships in Seville.
Engquist was voted more popular than the Royal Family, but then turned to bobsleighing and failed another drugs test in 2001. Such was the public outrage, she attempted suicide, then fled in shame to Spain.
"It was a huge scandal," Susanna Kallur, one of the Swedish stars in Birmingham yesterday, recalled. "The Swedish people were really crazy about her." This past week they have been crazy about Kallur, the 27-year-old having turned on sufficient gas in Karlsruhe last Sunday to relieve Engquist of the indoor 60m hurdles world record she had held for 18 years, clocking 7.68sec – 0.07sec faster than her winning time yesterday. Engquist sent her a congratulatory e-mail via a newspaper. It was met with indifference by Kallur and the Swedish public.
As Kluft remarked before embarking on her three-event contest: "If I tested positive for drugs, they would spit on me in the street. In Sweden if you cheat, you're a loser." Kluft was a winner yesterday, long jumping 6.46m and clocking 6.25sec in the 60m hurdles and 52.98sec in the 400m to beat Sotherton (who jumped 6.27m, hurdled in 8.17sec and ran a scorching 52.47sec) by a margin of 18 points.
In the pentathlon in Valenica, the Swede and the British runner-up are likely to face Lyudmila Blonska, the Ukrainian who happens to have a doping conviction for stanozolol, Johnson's drug of choice.Reuse content