IAAF fear time-bomb Yegorova

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The Independent Online

It is four days until the women's 5,000 metres heats get underway in the Commonwealth Stadium; as that time draws closer, members of the International Association of Athletics Federations may fancy they hear a ticking sound.

Following the shamefaced announcement by the head of the IAAF's doping commission, Arne Ljungqvist, that Russia's Olga Yegorova has had to be restored to the competition because of a technical error in the testing procedure which indicated she had taken the banned blood-booster EPO last month, these Championships face the prospect of having a large hole blown in their image.

The emergence of the news that the French laboratory handling Yegorova's test had failed to take the blood sample legally required to confirm the positive finding discovered within her urine sample left IAAF officials and athletes aghast.

Now the question is raised of whether Romania's Olympic 5,000 metres champion Gabriela Szabo will stand by her threat to boycott the event if the Russian, whose adverse sample showed up from the Paris Golden League meeting on 6 July, was allowed to take part.

Szabo was besieged by reporters seeking a reaction to the news after she had won her 1500 metres heat on Saturday, but she refused to make any comment.

Her manager, Jos Hermens, said that she hadn't reached a decision over the 5,000m, but hinted that he would try and dissuade her from taking any radical action. "I think her career is too short to be stopped by this, but it's her decision," he said. "At this moment it doesn't make a lot of sense to boycott because you help Yegorova to get a medal." Hermens later issued a statement deploring Yegorova's restoration, which came about because the Paris laboratory dealing with her test neglected to take the blood sample required to corroborate the far more elaborate urine test which indicated she had taken EPO.

As of the end of this month, a change in the International Olympic Committee rules will allow the urine test ­ which has been developed by the Paris lab ­ to stand on its own as an indicator. But as Ljungqvist admitted, there was no possibility of retrospective action being taken against Yegorova based on the Paris test.

"It took 10 years to find a test for EPO and now they have it and it is messed up," Hermens said. "Now they say it will be clarified in two weeks after the championships. Why can't they have clarified it two weeks before? It doesn't give confidence in the system.

"The EPO test has been used by cycling, it's been verified by the UCI (International Cycling Union) but not by the IAAF and the IOC. Why not? We accept the fact that Yegorova has been reinstated on a technicality, that's the rules of the sport. But this is not nandrolone, which it can be argued, gets into the body through supplements. EPO can only get into the body through injections or whatever."

Meanwhile Paula Radcliffe, who also spoke out strongly against Yegorova's presence here, has to consider whether to see through her promise to consider taking part in some kind of sit-down protest should the Russian's suspension be lifted.

Radcliffe made her position very clear before the Championships began after spotting Yegorova in the athletes' restaurant. "When somebody has cheated you and beaten you in two races this year, to see them flaunting it in your face, still thinking they are going to compete in the championships, is wrong," she said. She will not make any further comment on the matter until after her 10,000 metres final on Tuesday, after which she will make a decision on whether to double up over 5,000m.

Yegorova, meanwhile, has defended her right to line up in these Championships. Asked if she had ever taken EPO, she replied: "Of course not." Asked to describe what she was feeling about the situation, she responded: "After a scandal like this, how do you think a normal person would feel? What can I do about it? Maybe not eat lunch with Paula Radcliffe. Seriously, it hasn't been proven that I took EPO, so that should be the end of it. I can't explain it myself. I was shocked when I heard about it."

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