Walker embarks on long road to renewal

Lost time has cost cleared sprinter his Olympic place

Dougie Walker was only fractionally late. By 0.05 seconds, in fact, he had missed the 300 yards world record. "I'll be back to break it next year," was his parting comment as he disappeared into the bowels of Meadowbank Stadium. Nineteen months later, the formerly flying Scotsman has yet to get back on the track.

Dougie Walker was only fractionally late. By 0.05 seconds, in fact, he had missed the 300 yards world record. "I'll be back to break it next year," was his parting comment as he disappeared into the bowels of Meadowbank Stadium. Nineteen months later, the formerly flying Scotsman has yet to get back on the track.

The reigning European 200m champion was a notable absentee from Railtrack Scottish Championships at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow yesterday, the day after his 27th birthday and four days after the temporary High Court reprieve in his long-running battle against drug-taking charges. Walker might have been cleared to challenge for Olympic selection, pending consideration of his case by the International Amateur Athletic Federation's doping arbitration panel in Monaco on 14 August, but his chances of making it to Sydney are as remote as the distant memory of his last race, which he ran on the last day of 1998.

After one year and seven months of competitive inactivity, in the wake of his positive test for the anabolic steroid nandrolone, the Edinburgh sprinter would have suddenly to summon sufficient form to finish in the top two in the 200m final at the British trials, which start in Birmingham on Friday week - or to perform encouragingly enough to persuade the selectors to leave the discretionary third place open for him. Even then, Walker would need to find the speed to achieve the Olympic qualifying standard, 20.70sec, by 21 August - presuming, that is, he had cleared the IAAF arbitration hurdle and also made serious inroads into a pecking order that includes Christian Malcolm, Marlon Devonish, Julian Golding, Marcus Adam, Ian Mackie and Doug Turner.

It is a task of mission impossible proportions for a man who has become the biggest victim of the nandrolone saga. Merlene Ottey, Dieter Baumann and Troy Douglas have all got back into competitive action less than a year after they were suspended. They have done so without missing a summer season. So has Mark Richardson, who was cleared by UK Athletics last Tuesday and who has since been in Portugal preparing for his return in the British grand prix meeting at Crystal Palace next Saturday. Richardson's case, like that of Walker, might yet be referred to the IAAF for arbitration but at least, having competed throughout last summer (and having finished sixth in the World Championships 400m final at Seville in August), he has a fighting chance of being in reasonable shape for the trials.

For Walker, there is the frustrating dilemma of being free to run, temporarily at least, but without the conditioning he needs to do himself justice, let alone to secure an Olympic place. "I am desperately hungry to race," he said. "It is what I love and what I train for yet have been unable to do for too long, but if I come back before I am in shape to run fast, I risk people thinking I was on drugs all along. Yet if I want to do the Olympics I am obliged to do the trials in little more than a fortnight.

"My chances of being competitive in such a short time are remote. It's a tall order to think I can have the required sharpness in two weeks. It's a bit like asking a heavyweight boxer to go into a world title fight without any rounds of sparring. I think I would be kidding myself, and at the moment I don't know if I will even try.

"It is so important for me to come back and run well. If I run badly, I risk people pointing the finger. Running again and winning titles again are important but not as important as clearing my name, and I don't want to be let off on some legal technicality.

"I am also concerned that I might be so traumatised by what I have been through that I will be unable to reproduce my previous form, especially when I need to, in order to demonstrate that I am, and always have been, a clean athlete."

At least, in the protracted race to clear his name, Walker now has demonstrable proof that traces of nandrolone can appear in the body without having been ingested. Indeed, the research study which confirmed that breakthrough finding - carried out by Ron Maughan, a professor at Aberdeen University Medical School and a scientific expert on the UK Sport Nandrolone review Group - convinced UK Athletics that Richardson had no case to answer.

Professor Maughan's tests showed that athletes taking legal supplements can produce metabolites of nandrolone in sufficient quantities to get them suspended. In fact, after just two days of training and dietary supplementation, one guinea pig athlete produced a greater volume of the offending substance than that which got Walker banned.

"I don't believe Dougie Walker committed an offence, and research provides grounds to make that conviction even stronger," Professor Maughan said. "Worldwide, there have been 350 findings of metabolites attributed to nandrolone in the past year. Some of these people will be cheats, but most will be innocent people going through the same agonies as Dougie Walker."

In the course of his agonising ordeal, Walker has lost a lot - approaching seven figures in financial terms, with deprival of income and legal costs. More priceless, though, has been the time he has lost on the sidelines. As his coach, Davie Gibson, lamented: "Dougie could have been gaining experience last year, when his event was on the grand prix circuit. He would have been racing - and earning - against the likes of Frankie Fredericks, Ato Boldon and Maurice Greene and he would have been at the World Championships in Seville, possibly in the final.

"This week, with Greene and Michael Johnson failing to make the US Olympic 200m squad, the rest of the world's 200m runners are rubbing their hands. The event is now wide open and, but for what is a personal tragedy for an innocent athlete, Dougie would have had a real chance of challenging for a medal."

Instead, the challenge for Walker is to get back in the fast lane with his name fully cleared. The golden hand of opportunity has already passed him by.