Chris Tomlinson: Drugs cheats cost me medals
Life is sweet for the long jumper – chocolate advert star and father-to-be – but 'slaps on the wrist' for doping offenders leave a sour taste. He talks to Simon Turnbull
Wednesday 23 November 2011
In more than one respect, life has been sweet of late for Chris Tomlinson. For one thing, his wife, the actress Lucia Rovardi – star of Buddy and other West End productions – is five and a half months pregnant. For another, the lank-haired, lanky long jumper is the star of the Cadbury television advert, bounding and running through the streets of London to the tune of "The Final Countdown". Then there is the British record that the 6ft 6in Teessider regained in Paris in July, with a leap of 8.35 metres at the Diamond League meeting in the Stade de France. Tomlinson is too tranquil a soul to harbour anything like bitterness but the untimely knee injury that left him jumping off one good leg at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August, did come as a sharp blow – not to mention a painful one, that has since required surgery to correct.
It is also fair to say that the Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision to go easier on drug offenders, allowing those returning from bans to compete in the next Olympic Games, has left something of a sour taste in the 30-year-old's mouth. At a time when the British Olympic Association is being pressed by the World Anti-Doping Agency to drop its by-law banning doping returnees from Olympic selection – with the matter expected to be resolved by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the new year – Tomlinson wants to see a more hard-line approach adopted by all the authorities.
"I back the BOA," he said. "You've got to have a hard standpoint on drugs. For me, two years is nothing. It's not much more than a slap on the wrist. It's not long enough. It's something that I believe has to be increased.
"I'm glad that the BOA has taken a firm line and put more than just two years on the line. However, it's something that's got to be adopted across the board, by all federations and bodies. It's totally unfair when you have Americans who have served their ban and they're back in the Olympics and yet we've got British athletes, like Dwain Chambers, who aren't allowed in.
"It should be one rule for all, and for me that would be a four-year ban at least, and also an Olympic ban. I think that is the kind of severe deterrent that is needed, because if there weren't drug takers in my sport I'm sure I would have finished higher up the medal table in a number of competitions and had a few more pennies in the bank.
"I train hard and I give it my all. It's unfair when certain athletes get criticised sometimes for so-called underperforming, when really we're performing at a higher level. It's just that you've got drugs cheats out there who've got huge advantages."
It was a message that was close to Tomlinson's heart as he addressed more than a hundred teenagers at the Youth Ambassador Conference at The Oval. The Youth Sport Trust's programme of nurturing Young Ambassadors to use the London Olympics to inspire other young people in their schools and communities is something that the father-to-be passionately supports – even though the audience might know him more as the face of one of the 2012 sponsors than as a medal hope.
"Yeah, I think I'm known more among schoolkids as the guy in the Cadbury advert than the guy who does the long jump," he said. "It always makes me laugh. I did the advert in September and they gave me plenty of chocolate. I got through it all in about three or four days. It was OK. I was on a rest at the time."
It was back in April 2002 that Tomlinson first made his name as a long jumper, leaping 8.27m at a minor meeting in Tallahassee, Florida, to break the 34-year-old British record held by Lynn Davies, the 1964 Olympic champion in the event. As a raw-boned 20-year-old, and a training partner of the world triple jump record holder Jonathan Edwards, it seemed that the young man from Middlesbrough had the athletics world at his feet, but he has struggled to find the consistency required to make an impact among the global elite.
Fifth in the long jump at the Athens Olympics in 2004, Tomlinson failed to make the final in Beijing four years later. He did win a World Indoor Championship silver medal in 2008, though, and last year took bronze at the European Championships in Barcelona. His 8.35m in Paris in July suggested a medal challenge at this year's World Championships but then injury struck.
"It was just something that crept up about three weeks before Daegu," Tomlinson said. "It was a problem with the tendon in my take-off knee, my left. I wasn't too concerned about it at first. It was a little bit painful but I was able to push through and qualify for the final at the World Championships. However, come the final, it just was not good enough. I needed to jump to my full potential to win a medal and, unfortunately, it didn't allow me to do that."
Indeed, the limping Tomlinson could only muster a best of 7.87m. Dwight Phillips of the US took gold, and his fourth world title, with 8.45m. The pre-championship favourite Mitchell Watt of Australia was second with 8.33m and Zimbabwe's Ngonidzashe Makusha third with 8.29m.
All of which has left Tomlinson sixth in the world rankings for 2011 and hungry for an injury-free shot at the podium in 2012.
"I had an operation to scrape out the tendon eight weeks ago," he said. "UK Athletics were brilliant. They sent me to Sweden, to the best doctor and the best surgeon. I've been back in training for about five weeks now and I'm up to about 90 per cent.
"I was unlucky to get myself injured just when I had gained consistency, jumping 8.20m and above in four competitions going into the World Championships. These things happen in athletics. I've just got to make sure it does not happen in 2012.
"The medals are there for the taking in the long jump. The fortunate thing is I don't have a Usain Bolt or a Yohan Blake to contend with. I've got athletes who are on a similar level. I'm not miles away from the top in my event."
Leaps and bounds: Tomlinson factfile
Christopher George Tomlinson
Born 15 September 1981 in Middlesbrough.
Personal Married to former Miss Great Britain finalist and West End actress Lucia Rovardi. They met at school at 17 and are now expecting their first child in March 2012.
* Began competing for Middlesbrough AC at the age of 10, mainly running 100m and 200m.
* In 2002 he broke the British record that had been held by Lynn Davies for 34 years with a jump of 8.27m. This came only three months after Tomlinson had broken both wrists in a freak weight-training accident.
* Has competed in two Olympic Games; Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, finishing fifth in 2004 and failing to make the final three years ago.
* Broke Greg Rutherford's British record with a jump of 8.35m in Paris in July and is the current British indoor and outdoor record holder.
* Has won just two major medals in his career. His best performance came at the European Championships in Barcelona in 2010, where he finished with a bronze medal after a jump of 8.23m and claimed his first medal at a major championships.
* Also won silver at the 2008 World Indoor Championships.
* He has the fifth-longest long jump in the world this year.
Life ban for top sprinter after doping offences
Jamaican sprinter Steve Mullings – the fourth-fastest man in the world this year, behind Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay – has received a life ban as punishment for his second doping offence.
The 28-year-old, who clocked 9.80sec at the Diamond League meeting in Eugene, Oregon, in June, tested positive for furosemide, a diuretic and masking agent, after competing at the Jamaican national championships in Kingston later the same month. He served a two-year ban after testing positive for excessive levels of testosterone in 2004.
Lennox Gayle, chairman of the Jamaican Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel, said: "The panel believes a strong message must be sent to every athlete in Jamaica that prohibited substances will not be tolerated."
Mullins is expected to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
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