Manchester will test Dwain's campaign to reign once again

 

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The Independent Online

It has not exactly been the best of weeks for Dwain Chambers. Competing at the splendidly named Ponce Grand Prix meeting in Puerto Rico last weekend, the cause célèbre of British track and field got his Olympic season off to a decidedly sluggish start, failing to break 10.5sec for 100m. Then came some moral support from Ben Johnson.

Britain's highest profile "drugs cheat" hardly needed any kind of backing from the sporting world's most notorious dabbler in the dark arts, Chambers' path to London 2012 having been opened by the lifting of the British Olympic Association bar on the selection of reinstated doping offenders. Still, on a visit to Singapore to launch a sports academy for children, the Canadian Johnson gave his tainted blessing to the would-be home 100m hope of 2012.

"I'm happy that this young man can go and finish his career in a good way," the disqualified Olympic 100m champion of 1988 said in an interview with The Straits Times. Whether the 34-year-old Chambers can finish his turbulent life in the fast lane on a high on home ground, however, remains open to question.

Sixth place in Ponce in 10.52sec did not bode well, but then it was only in March that Chambers was standing on a global rostrum, as the bronze medal winner in the 60m final at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul. Tomorrow, the Belgrave Harrier runs his first race of the summer on British soil and he will be looking for a vast improvement when he gets to his marks for the 150m in the Powerade Great City Games in Manchester city centre.

Chambers will face world-class opposition in the shape of Wallace Spearmon, a World Championship sprint medallist from the United States, and Francis Obikwelu, the European 100m record-holder from Portugal. He will also be facing up to some historical demons.

It was in Manchester that Chambers suffered one of the major setbacks of his sprinting career. Back in 2002, he lined up as co-favourite for the 100m final at the Commonwealth Games, together with the emerging Mark Lewis-Francis. He limped across the line last in 11.19sec suffering from what he told the world was a hamstring pull but was in fact cramps caused by the cocktail of illicit drugs he was taking at the time.

He was so distraught he packed his bags and headed straight for Piccadilly station. When his train was delayed, he got sick of pacing up and down the platform "like a madman" and took a taxi home to Ilford instead. "It was the most expensive cab ride I'd ever taken, costing me nearly £300," Chambers recalled.

It was the following year that the Londoner failed a drugs test. He served a two-year ban but has continued to pay for the sins of his past since returning to the track six years ago. This is the first time he has been invited to compete in the high-profile Manchester sprint, held on a specially constructed raised track on Deansgate.

"I hope Dwain does well," said Andy Turner, the European and Commonwealth 110m hurdles champion, who will be competing over the barriers tomorrow. "I'm all for him being in the Olympic team. I think the whole issue with him should be more consistent.

"It's not fair that Dwain couldn't compete when you see other 'cheats' running in the Diamond League. It needs to be a level playing-field for everyone."

Following the lifting of the BOA ban at the end of last month, it seems likely that Chambers will be welcomed back on to the Diamond League stage for the pre-Olympic London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace in July.

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