James Lawton: Backley's no-throw on the 'end of drugs era'

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The Independent Online

It would be wonderful if Steve Backley was right, if the veteran javelin thrower was doing more than whistling past the graveyard of sporting dreams when he declared: "I know there has been a spate of high-profile [positive] tests in the last year but the truth is we're clearing up the final dregs."

It would be wonderful if Steve Backley was right, if the veteran javelin thrower was doing more than whistling past the graveyard of sporting dreams when he declared: "I know there has been a spate of high-profile [positive] tests in the last year but the truth is we're clearing up the final dregs."

There was more. "Now I can tell you the drugs era is over. The cheats are finished. We're talking about the last few remaining bad apples at the bottom of the barrel."

The bottom of the barrel? Dwain Chambers was the most talented British sprinter since Linford Christie ended his career with a ban for testing positive for nandrolone. Tim Montgomery was the reigning 100 metres world record-holder. Kelli White won the 100m and 200m world titles at the Stade de France - and would have got away with her claim that she had never done anything more unethical than taking the wrong brand of medication if the files of the Balco drugs factory in California had not been uncovered.

And why did these "last dregs" of the cheating culture come unstuck? It was not because drug-testing had finally touched infallible levels, as Backley suggests, but because someone stuffed an offending syringe into a package and mailed it to American investigators.

Now we hear from the positively-tested shot putter, C J Hunter, the specific details of how and where he injected his former wife Marion Jones with illegal drugs at the time she was winning three gold medals at the Sydney Olympics. Through her lawyer, Jones has denied the claims, saying that she is the victim of a desire for revenge... and the circumstantial evidence that her former husband and current companion, Montgomery, have both been exposed as dopers.

Whether or not Jones is included in the last round-up of the "dregs" of athletics, will probably be a matter for one court or another.

However, in the circumstances, Backley must understand if some of us do not feel entirely consumed by a great wave of reassurance.

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