It was good to get back on home ground up in the north-east corner of England last weekend. Friday and Saturday in Birmingham had been far from satisfying, covering the latest developments in the Dwain Chambers Circus. All year it had been burgeoning into what became the only show in town at the Olympic trials. Or so it seemed, what with as many television crews as paying punters in the stands of the Alexander Stadiumfor the opening heat of the men's 100 metres on Friday evening.
Sunday in Hexham was a blessed relief – far from the madding media crowds in Birmingham on Saturday and from the ignoble strife of Big Bad Dwain's ultimately doomed bid to make it to Beijing. Contrary to the perception projected by the preoccupation with the Chambers affair, and the blight that drugs has inflicted on athletics, there are noble characters at the sharp end of track and field. Lots of them. They have become victims of the drawn-out saga of Dwain's World, their deeds overshadowed and under-appreciated.
Chief among them is (or has been) Dean Macey – Deano, the ebullient, engaging, effing and blinding Ronseal man of the decathlon, who calls it as it is on the tin, more often than not in language on the colourful side of crude. There he was at 10am in tranquil Hadrian's Wall country on Sunday, pulling on a Great Britain vest for the 110m hurdles, the opening event on day two of the decathlon at the Hexham Combined Events International.
There were little more than two men and a dog in the compact Tynedale Athletics Park – some 97, dotted around the arena – and the peal of church bells was in the air.
The Sunday morning serenitywas jolted by the scream that Macey emitted as he crossed the finish line and collapsed on to the grass bank in agony. It transpired that the Commonwealth decathlon champion had torn his right groin in the long jump the previous day and had been given four injections to keep him going. Still, as he limped back on to his feet in an acutely painful state, it was a wonder that the former lifeguard managed to get himself back down the track to collect his kit, let alone drag his battered body through the remaining four events: discus, pole vault, javelin and 1500m.
Macey's chance of achieving an Olympic qualifying score had gone but he battled through to the end – and emerged as the winner, too. "Showed a lot of them whippersnappers how to do a decathlon," he said, wincing as he struggled to stretch down and remove his socks.
There was a Sean Tough of Montrose among the beaten whippersnappers but Macey has always been a true Tough of the Track, bringing more than a touch of Alf Tupper, the comic-book hero, to the professional world of the athletics arena.
As he hobbled off into the Northumberland sunset, ready to announce his retirement at the age of 30, the injury-cursed Canvey Islander warranted a far greater fanfare than the muted one he was subsequently accorded amid the media's still-mounting Chambers fever. If there is any sympathy going, now that the tainted sprinter's Olympic fate has been sealed by the High Court, it should not be for Chambers but for those who have suffered – directly or indirectly – as a result of his mis-guided drug-fuelled actions.
True, it is not entirely just that Chambers should be barred from Beijing while reinstated drug offenders will be strutting their stuff on the Olympic stage, for less principled nations than Great Britain naturally. Torri Edwards, the American who heads the world rankings in the women's 100m, tested positive for the banned stimulant nikethamide in 2004. She has served a two-year ban but is free to go for gold in Beijing. Then there is Katerina Thanou, who was last week named in the provisional Greek track-and-field squad for the Games – yes, the same Katerina Thanou whose dodging of the drug testers caused such a storm on the eve of the Athens Olympics.
Still, it is the clean athletes who will have to face the Edwardses and the Thanous in Beijing who ought to be considered first when it comes to talk of track-and-field justice – athletes such as Montell Douglas, the Londoner who broke Kathy Cook's 27-year-old British 100m record at Loughborough on Thursday with the barest of public recognition. And Kelly Sotherton, whose shot at heptathlon gold could be scuppered by Lyudmilla Blonska, another reinstated drugs cheat.
Dwain Chambers, lest it be forgotten, crossed a Rubicon when he got in league with Victor Conte and ingested a cocktail of drugs potent enough to turn a Mr Edward Hyde into a Dr Henry Jekyll. The victims remain those who continue to be cheated by the charlatan alchemists who have plundered tarnished gold – as Kathy Cook was by the female speed merchants churned out by the steroid-driven East German athletics machine a quarter of a century ago.
As a starry-eyed sprinter in my own youth, I recall the guest coach at a training camp snatching a corned beef sandwich from my mouth and telling me: "Athletes don't put rubbish in their bodies. They eat brown bread, not white." He was my hero back then in 1975, David Jenkins, the holder of the British 400m record. Twelve years later he was jailed for masterminding a $70 million (£35m) steroid-smuggling ring in the United States.
Outside the High Court last Friday, there were probably no mournful kids imploring: "Say it ain't so, Dwain." Sadly, they knew it was so a long time ago.