First and foremost, the whereabouts system is the right way to catch the cheats. That’s been proven. But as an athlete who lives it day in, day out, it is both invasive and very stressful.
I remember when I was still a university student and an athlete, I was living in a shared house with a bunch of housemates. They all had to be versed to listen out for the doorbell and answer it whatever the time of day or night in case it was a drugs tester.
I even bought a new, louder doorbell for the house and had a note on it saying “ring this if you’re the drug tester”. I knew it was the only way that I, living at the top of the house, would hear them.
I’ve been tested five times in the past year. It’s a drop down from the build-up to London 2012 when the testing noticeably ramped up but I think that’s a fairly standard number of tests for an athlete in any given year.
My most recent test was while I was in Boston training – at six in the morning.
The problem on that occasion was that I had just given my address on the whereabouts system but not the specific apartment number, so the testers – two men and a woman who turned up that particular morning – just had to ring every doorbell and wake everyone else up before they got to me. That’s embarrassing, as I was a guest in someone’s house, but the reality there is that if they’d not done that then that could have been a black mark against me, a missed test.
I’ve never missed a test but I can see it’s perfectly possible, for example when you’re in a foreign country, stuck in traffic with no internet and, therefore, no way of updating your whereabouts.
There’ll be those who simply say that you’re an athlete, you know you have to give your whereabouts for one hour of every day, just live with it and shut up.
But you find me one person who has never in their life missed an appointment or not been an hour late for something. That’s just the reality of life, it happens.
You try to avoid the pitfalls of the system – well I do – by putting your hour down early in the morning, usually at six o’clock, but even that’s not without it’s problems.
I know when I’ve been bothered by the noise of traffic in the night, I’ve popped in some ear plugs and then not heard the doorbell in the morning. Thankfully on those occasions my husband did.
Or else there’s those heart-stopping moments when you wake up, not at home – for example if I stay at my parents’ place for the night – and you realise you haven’t updated the system and have to quickly do so in the middle of the night.
Keeping on top of it can become obsessional. Every night at 6pm my phone beeps with a daily reminder to tell me to check the whereabouts system and update it if necessary. An hour later it beeps again, and then usually my mum will text me as well to remind me if, say, we’ve talked earlier in the day and I’ve said I’m heading to my husband Luke’s parents for the night for example.
There’s very few things that make me swear but the doorbell going at six in the morning with a drug tester at the door is one of them. There you are in your pyjamas, which is not necessarily how you want to greet a complete stranger, who follows you around until you pee in front of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, as it’s the way forward but it’s a natural instinct when you know that you’re clean to get frustrated and think of them, “you’re wasting your time”.
There are times in my career when I could have missed a test. Now take an athlete like Mo Farah. With the success he’s had, the odds are that he is more tested than a lot of other athletes.
And by the very nature that he gets tested more, there’s obviously a higher chance of a missed test. He’s human, we all are, that does not make him a cheat.Reuse content