Mark's lap of restored honour

'I was considering whether I ought to find myself another career. I even checked out if I might get into rugby'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Mark Richardson blinked in the south-east London sunlight rather like a released prisoner stepping from the jail gates into the outside world. In effect, he had been serving a 10-month sentence but now, pardoned as far as British athletics are concerned, he resumed business as usual after enjoying a rapturous welcome back into sporting society.

Mark Richardson blinked in the south-east London sunlight rather like a released prisoner stepping from the jail gates into the outside world. In effect, he had been serving a 10-month sentence but now, pardoned as far as British athletics are concerned, he resumed business as usual after enjoying a rapturous welcome back into sporting society.

Richardson's first competitive race since falling foul of the drugs testers last October wasn't a winning one. Nor did anyone really expect it to be, least of all himself. For the 400m man from Windsor it was more a lap of restored honour. The 28-year-old finished a highly creditable third behind the Jamaican Greg Haughton and Mexico's world bronze medallist Alejandro Cardenas in a time of 45.11sec, some way behind his best of 44.37. But it was the best by a Briton this year and, more important, an Olympic qualifying time.

There's the rub. Will he make it to Sydney? "That's out of my hands now," he said later. "It's up to other people." The other people, of course, are the selectors and, more significantly, the International Amateur Athletic Federation, who meet shortly to decide whether to endorse his clearance by the UK body or send it to arbitration. Whatever happens Rich-ardson said he feels vindicated and rejuvenated.

"I was pleasantly surprised by my time and the way I ran. There were a lot of high quality guys out there and they've had half a season's start on me. I doubt I'll be back to my best in time for the Olympics but at least I can relax now. A few weeks ago I was considering whether I ought to find myself another career. I even checked out if I might get into rugby."

Richardson reckons he has now run any bitterness out of his system. "I was just so pleased to be out there and running again. Farcical as the situation was, I don't think bitterness is going to do me any favours. I'm just pleased I've been exonerated."

"A man who has gone through 10 months of hell," was how the trackside announcer Jon Ridgeon introduced Richardson. And after his spirited run from lane six, he was asked how it felt to be back. "Awesome," he replied, "just awesome." He turned, waved to the capacity crowd and said: "Thank you all very much. You were fantastic. I just can't put into words what these past 10 months have been like. But I never gave up hope. I've never taken drugs and I never will. Now all I want to do is get quicker and quicker."

Richardson had been vindicated by UK Athletics because a fresh investigation into the illegal stimulant nandrolone had shown a link between dietary supplements and excessive training. These findings have been received with some scepticism by the IAAF.

Those who know him say that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, let alone globules of nandrolone, however it is ingested. Six years ago in Victoria, Colombia, when we learned during the Commonwealth Games that Diane Modahl was being sent home because of a positive test, Sebastian Coe remarked that if someone like Modahl was on drugs then there was no hope for athletics. You tend to think the same thing about Richardson, a sparky, intelligent figure who has always enjoyed a wholesome image.

Modahl, of course, was up and running again once the courts had cleared her name. The action by UK Athletics in restoring Richardson may shortcircuit the sort of lingering heartache that Modahl endured. But that will only be if the IAAF endorse the not-guilty verdict. Even if they do, it may be too late for Richardson, with a lack of sufficient training to make much of an impact on the 400m with the Olympic final now just 40 days away, and Michael Johnson looming large. "I'm not what you would call match fit," said Richardson. "In fact I'm rather surprised I can even get into my leotard."

With the IAAF having recently lifted bans on two athletic high-flyers, the Cuban high jumper Javier Sotomayor and the enduring sprinter Merlene Ottey, one must hope that similar benevolence will now be extended to Richardson and others who have fallen foul of the nandrolone net.

Richardson's future remains as uncertain as that of Crystal Palace itself. The hard- to-get-to arena that has seen so many epic pieces of athletic history is no longer wanted on voyage as the sport gears itself towards its new home at Pickett's Lock. The Palace may never have been perfect but it has always engendered an atmosphere and ambience that other venues struggle to match.

There were even ticket touts outside yesterday, a sign that athletics is on the up again. Sadly, this British Grand Prix was probably the last big event to be staged here and that, at least, is something for Mark Richardson to remember as he looked back without rancour and forward with hope to next week's Olympic trials while knowing he still remains on trial himself.

Comments