Richardson and Walker cleared for Olympic trial

The governing body for athletics in Britain is set on a collision course with the sport's international rulers after two runners, Doug Walker and Mark Richardson, were cleared yesterday after separate hearings to compete in next month's Olympic trials.

The governing body for athletics in Britain is set on a collision course with the sport's international rulers after two runners, Doug Walker and Mark Richardson, were cleared yesterday after separate hearings to compete in next month's Olympic trials.

Both athletes had tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid, nandrolone, and have strenuously maintained their innocence. While they have the backing of UK Athletics, the sport's governing body in Britain, conflict is looming with the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which hasopposed Walker's return and is expected to adopt the sameapproach to Richardson.

It is a year to the week since Walker, the 1998 European 200 metres champion, was cleared of all charges by UK Athletics. The Scot was later re-suspended by the IAAF pending an arbitration hearing which has yet to be held.

Richardson, the 400m silver medallist at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, had his positive test nearly a year after Walker's. Yesterday the disciplinary panel of UK Athletics dismissed all proceedings against Richardson. However, as in several previous nandrolone cases - including Walker's - it seems likely that the IAAF will want to take the matter to arbitration.

David Moorcroft, who steered Britain's governing body through insolvency 18 months ago, has to decide whether to place UK Athletics in contempt of the High Court in this country by ignoring its ruling to allow Walker to race again, or to ignore the IAAF's demand that Walker be banned from competition until his arbitration hearing, which is unlikely to be until after the Olympic trials in Birmingham next month.

The IAAF has been down this route before, when Butch Reynolds, the former world record holder at 400m, attempted to compete at the United States Olympic trials. In that showdown, it was the Americans who blinked first.

Then, the IAAF threatened two possible sanctions: suspensions for anyone who races with the banned athlete under its "contamination" rule; or the cancellation of a national federation's membership, thereby "banning" an entire country from international events, including the Olympics.

But after yesterday's landmark ruling in the High Court, at least UK Athletics has some protection. When Mrs Justice Hallett handed down her orders, she attached a further injunction on the IAAF that forbids it from taking any sanctions against British athletes. The IAAF Council will discuss the issue on 2 August, when it may also refer Richardson's case to arbitration.

Yesterday afternoon, as the announcement in Richardson's case was being made at a Heathrow hotel, the athlete was training hard at his home track just a few miles away. "Physically, he's 80 per cent fit," his manager, Mike Whittingham, said. "Mentally, he's probably about 10 per cent fit."

Richardson aims to get fit for the British trials and then perhaps challenge for an Olympic medal. His first race will be at Crystal Palace on Friday week. "My name's been cleared," he said. "My Olympic dream has been resurrected. They came up with scientific evidence that has exonerated me. I'd like to think that is the end of the matter."

Richardson was referring to a new study, conducted by teams of scientists at Oxford, Aberdeen, Warwick and Loughborough Universities, that suggests that it may be possible for an athlete, using a combination of hard training and food supplements, to produce low levels of nandrolone by-products without having actually taken the banned drug.

The research is so new that Richardson's disciplinary hearing had to be adjourned after the preliminary results were first received. According to Karina Vleck, the solicitor who helped to frame Britain's approach to the recent rash of positive drug tests, the panel decided that what had been found in Richardson's sample "could in fact be a metabolyte of a non-banned substance".

The research is based on a very small sample of human guinea pigs, including just three athletes who had previously tested positive for nandrolone and who chose to co-operate with the study in an attempt to prove their innocence.

One of them was Richardson. He was asked to train normally for a week and not to use food supplements. His daily urine samples were found negative for nandrolone. The next week, when training hard and taking supplements, he collected samples before, during and after training. Only after hard exercise did the samples show signs of nandrolone metabolytes.

Richardson was the only active athlete to produce such results. But when similar tests were conducted using three laboratory assistants, one of them produced similar findings.

The researchers want to continue the study on a larger sample. According to IAAF sources last night, before then it is unlikely that the international officials will accept the Richardson ruling any more readily than the British disciplinary decisions in the cases of Walker, or the other two Britons still awaiting arbitration, Gary Cadogan and Linford Christie.

Last week, Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, described the recent decision to clear the Jamaican sprinter, Merlene Ottey, of nandrolone charges as "a mistake". After a year when 343 positive findings for nandrolone have been announced in sports around the world, this is one issue that will run and run.