For Lisa Dobriskey, it has all come as a sickening blow to the solar plexus. There she was a week ago, the World Championship 1500m silver medallist from Ashford, sitting pretty at the top of the continental rankings for the metric mile a fortnight out from the European Championships in Barcelona, having transformed a season that might have been ruined by a persistent back problem. And here she is now, suddenly down in third place in the European pecking order, behind two rivals who have emerged from drug bans in ominous form.
In the 1500m at the Diamond League meeting in Paris last Friday night Dobriskey was close to the best form of her life, clocking 3min 59.79sec in fourth place. Ahead of her, Anna Alminova of Russia was a commanding winner in 3:57.86, the fastest time for the distance by a woman for four years, with the American Christin Wurth-Thomas runner-up and Hind Dehiba third in a French record time of 3:59.76. Having looked like she was heading to Barcelona as the clear favourite for gold, Dobriskey now faces the prospect of being overshadowed by at least one returning doping offender, if not two.
Alminova tested positive for pseudoephedrine at the World Indoor Championships in Doha in March. She was given a three-month ban after pleading that the stimulant came from an over-the-counter cold medicine. Dehiba is just back from a two-year ban after testing positive for the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin, EPO. She and her husband and coach, Fodil Dehiba, were arrested at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris in 2007 after vials containing human growth hormone were found in their luggage.
All of which has given Dobriskey food for sobering thought as she puts the finishing touches to her preparations for the European Championships, which open in Barcelona next Tuesday. Speaking yesterday from the British team preparation camp at Monte Gordo, in Portugal, the Commonwealth 1500m champion was still struggling to digest the enormity of Alminova's stunning Paris win. "I don't like to point fingers or make false statements," Dobriskey said, "but I really have never seen anybody running that fast looking that easy to win a race. You could see that there was more there. That's the scary thing."
Having finished fourth in the Olympic final in 2008 and runner-up in the World Championships in Berlin last summer, Dobriskey had been benefiting from a marked levelling of the playing field in the long-tainted women's 1500m following the capture of seven Russians for tampering with urine samples on the eve of the Beijing Olympics. Did she fear that the field in Barcelona might not be quite so level?
"If I put that in my head then I'm going to instantly give myself a disadvantage," Dobriskey said. "The testers and the IAAF are doing their jobs to catch the cheats. I take a lot of heart from what happened before Beijing. I feel determined to prove how good somebody can be as a clean athlete."Reuse content