Even as a teenager, with little more than 12 months on the international sprinting scene, Adam Gemili must have known it was coming. Still, the world junior and European Under-23 100m champion could not help letting out an exclamation when the "D" word was dropped into the conversation.
"Oh!" he exclaimed, before the questioner could complete the query about the recent doping positives having returned his sport to the negativity of the dark days, and whether the proposal by the International Association of Athletics Federation to reintroduce four-year bans held out any hope of the 100m final at the 2016 Rio Olympics being a "clean" race.
"I have no idea," the 19-year-old replied. "The more people getting caught, the cleaner the sport is. We promote clean sport and we're trying to educate as many people as we can on that. Hopefully by the time Rio comes things will be a lot better. The new IAAF four-year ban is from 2015, which can only be positive."
It remains to be seen whether the stiffer bans (subject to confirmation by the World Anti-Doping Agency in November) will mean fewer positive tests for the blighted principal Olympic sport. One can only hope so for the sake of bright young things like Gemili (below). Just a year ago the Dartford boy was standing on the start line beaming a megawatt smile as he was introduced, to 80,000 roars, in the first round of 100m heats at the London Olympics.
The story of the 18-year-old making the big time at the end of a season he started as an academy team defender with Dagenham and Redbridge Football Club brought a touch of the school sports day-cum-Boy's Own Paper romance to the hard-edged world of international competition – all the more so after Gemili proceeded to finish second and qualify for the semi-finals behind a former holder of the 100m world record.
Twelve months on, the thrill of sharing the same track as Asafa Powell has been somewhat tempered. The Jamaican was a notable absentee from the 100m first round on the opening day of the World Championships. Like Tyson Gay, the fastest man in the world in 2013, he failed a drugs test a month ago.
Justin Gatlin, Gay's fellow American, has twice failed drug tests – for amphetamines in 2001 and excessive levels of testosterone in 2006 – yet he is one of those lining up for a shot at the blue riband title in Moscow.
Gemili is contesting the 200m later in the week, not the 100m, but does Gatlin's presence at the championships give him cause for bitterness?
"Not at all," he insisted. "I can only speak for myself, but what's done is done. He's served his ban and as far as I know everyone is on an equal playing field.
"I'm going out there and focusing on myself. I don't have anyone stepping in my lane. Whatever happens externally, I just run my own race."
It is impossible not to feel for Gemili. Here he is, 12 months on from that wide-eyed Olympic experience, now studying as a first-year student at the University of East London, and all anyone wants to talk to him about on the eve of his senior World Championships debut is drugs. It must be both bewildering and dispiriting.
"As athletes we work really hard, and to come to a champs and be asked loads of questions on doping does put a damper on things," he said. "But as athletes we have to do a job on the track, and that's what we'll hopefully go and do best."Reuse content