Mistake gives Modahl hope

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The Independent Online
DIANE MODAHL'S appeal against a four-year ban imposed when she was found guilty of using the performance-enhancing drug, testosterone, is to be heard by the British Athletic Federation early next month, by which time the International Amateur Athletic Federation may have had to admit that some laboratory testing for the drug is flawed.

For the first time, a laboratory has confessed to the IAAF that it made a mistake in its second examination of a specimen. Ulrike Heidelmann, a German discus competitor, awaits the conclusions of the German athletic federation (DLV) on whether or not she was a cheat. Like Modahl, she was accused of taking testosterone, the male hormone. But the Rome laboratory where the specimen was examined has contradicted its own findings on her B sample, saying the level was significantly lower than they had said.

Christopher Winner, representing the IAAF, said yesterday: "The laboratory confirmed the results, then last month they sent a terse fax to us and the DLV to say the second sample was no longer considered to be positive. My guess is that the Germans will lift their suspension. We don't know as yet why the laboratory changed its conclusions. We assume it has to do with the re-examination of the steroid profile". Professor Arne Ljungqvist, Chairman of the IAAF's Medical Commitee said: "In my 25 years I have seen only one or two cases of B samples contradicting A and usually that was procedural error and not medical."

Winner added: "We will be looking into the lab, which is accredited by the International Olympic Committee and is the main Italian sporting anti- doping centre. We will be looking for a full explanation because it's unacceptable, especially after months passed before they changed their mind. It's a serious matter. We have to get to the bottom of it. But we are not yet drawing conclusions that have implications for the Modahl case, except that testosterone is involved in both. For all we know the second sample could have been dropped or contaminated in some way."

The long delay since Modahl was banned following specimens being tested in a Lisbon laboratory last June is believed to have allowed her lawyers, her husband, Vicente, and the British team doctor, Malcolm Brown, to gather evidence to have her suspension reduced or even waived. The fact that the IAAF now has to question the work of one of its top testing stations can only encourage them. Modahl continues to plead innocence, and her husband says that when the appeal is heard there will be "an innocent explanation" for an astonishingly high testosterone level.