Jenny Meadows knows more than most about the knock-on effect of doping for clean athletes. She estimates she has been denied six or seven medals by Russian drugs cheats alone during the course of her career over two laps of the track.
And, just days away from the World Championships in Beijing, with athletics crashing from one doping crisis to the next, she admits: “If there is a situation where people are doping, even though I am a fan of our sport, we do have to acknowledge that.
“It’s the only way we can have a clean sport in the future and give future generations a chance to compete on a level playing field. But I don’t know whether that’s ever going to be possible.”
Hers is not so much a defeatist attitude, just that of a realist repeatedly burned by 800-metre rivals cheating around her, although she still tries to keep an optimistic outlook wherever possible.
“When I speak to younger people in a mentoring role,” Meadows adds, “I always tell them that clean people can win medals and there are positive role models out there. You can still do really well without doping.”
Meadows, currently at a training camp in Japan, heads to Beijing on Sunday, with her heat taking place next Wednesday, and she believes that more athletes suspected of doping will be in the starting line-up in China.
Among those set to compete are the Russian middle-distance runner Anastasiya Bazdyreva, whose coach, Vladimir Kazarin, was filmed in a German documentary apparently talking about the benefits of anabolic steroids. Kazarin has pledged to sue the filmmakers while Bazdyreva herself has never failed a drugs test.
Meadows says: “I am aware she has been selected in the team so I presume she is going to run in the championship. I feel really... I guess the word is frustrated, if she is allowed to compete. It is just not a good situation. I am pretty sure there is going to be more than one athlete who stands on the start line and you have your doubts, unfortunately.
“And I feel sorry for someone who could have maybe made the final and finishes the position behind someone you do suspect [of doping] because all you’re going to think is: ‘What if? What could have been?’”
It is a question Meadows has pored over throughout her career, one that has cost her medals as well as the financial trappings as a result of lost funding and sponsorship opportunities success brings.
At the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, Meadows was marginally denied a place in the final and believes that some of that field “were probably doping”.
Missing out forced her to push herself harder than ever in training which, in turn, led to the litany of injuries that subsequently marred much of the latter part of her career.
To date, the crowning glory of Meadows’ career has been gold at the European Indoor Championships but the title was only hers 15 months after the event, following the ensuing doping ban for the race winner Yevgeniya Zinurova.
Meadows says she no longer feels bitter at the cheats, merely “a mixture of frustration and anger”.
The Briton had been on target to be crowned European Indoor champion on the track in Prague earlier this season, but a heavy cold killed her chances and Meadows withdrew from the final. This was a major blow after she had dominated the 800m throughout the indoor season.
The ensuing low was so deep that she struggled to pick herself back up. “It’s taken a lot to recover psychologically from what happened in Prague,” she admits. “I’ve almost been stuck in a cycle of depression this year.
“It took me three years to battle back from being injured and illness, so to run three of the five fastest times in the world indoors and then suffer from a common cold which affected my chance of winning the gold, I found it really hard to commit to training.”
Slowly but surely she has picked herself up. She admits a medal is probably beyond her, but a place in the final remains a realistic ambition regardless of the validity of the athletes she lines up against.Reuse content