Modahl appeal adds to strain

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The Independent Online
THERE should be some respite from the controversy for British athletics today when for the first time this season Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell appear together on home soil. But after the Bupa International at the Don Valley Stadium, in Sheffield, is over tonight the troubles will return. After the past week's rows over world championship team selection, tomorrow brings potentially the biggest controversy of the year when Diane Modahl is scheduled to begin her appeal against a four- year suspension for using drugs.

After months of delay, mainly caused by Modahl's lawyers' seeking further medical evidence and trying to obtain missing documentation from the Portuguese authorities who carried out the original test, there could well be another setback. The British Athletic Federation now wants more time to examine the latest evidence that could have come about since tests were recently carried out on a third sample.

Whether Modahl finally wins or loses, the sport will be thrown back into turmoil. Should the appeal committee support the original findings and confirm her suspension, athletics will again find itself under suspicion and fighting to convince the public that this was an isolated incident. If she wins, the whole drugs procedure will be open to criticism. Officials of the IAAF have made it clear that they want to see a guilty verdict confirmed in order to vindicate their dope testing system.

By agreeing to allow a third sample to be tested, the BAF has already given a hint of disquiet. Not that any further samples should be any different from the first, except possibly if time has lapsed between the tests. That could be the crux of the appeal.

The procedure in the testing of Modahl's samples is crucial to her appeal. Information and supporting paperwork from the University of Lisbon, where the tests were carried out, has been at best slow to materialise and to some extent never been fully provided. Yet explaining why she had a huge level of the male hormone testosterone in the first sample, is still something the appeal committee must take into consideration as a priority.

Tampering seems to have been ruled out, but a natural change in the chemical structure has not. Nor has the possibility of naturally produced testosterone. A verdict of "not proven" may in the end be the only logical outcome.

In the meantime, Britain's world championship team will be hoping for no further withdrawals after today's meeting. With Colin Jackson and Du'aine Ladejo the latest injury victims, pressure will be on Gunnell who runs a flat 400m and may consider offering to compete in that event in Gothenburg. Achilles and heel injuries are stopping her hurdling this summer.

Although the selectors have said that all athletes named for the world championships must have proved their fitness by tomorrow, Jacqui Agyepong (100m hurdles) and the triple jumper Ashia Hansen, who have pulled out of today's meeting, hope to have the time limit extended by two more days.