Modahl claims `historic' victory

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The Independent Online

The announcement made yesterday that the International Amateur Athletic was dropping the doping case against Diane Modahl was described by the athlete's husband and coach, Vicente, as being of vital importance to the sport.

"I think this is one of the most significant days in athletics history for the last 20 years," he said, "because it's the day when athletes all over the world will have a safe future with the dope testing system. It will be tightened up in a major way after this."

Modahl had fought doping charges for 18 months after being sent home from the 1994 Commonwealth Games when it was announced that a drug test after a minor meeting in Lisbon in June of that year had disclosed huge levels of the male hormone testosterone in her urine.

The former Commonwealth 800 metres champion, who gave birth to a daughter last October, was banned for four years by a British Athletic Federation panel in December 1994, but the BAF reversed the decision on appeal last September. The IAAF has belatedly endorsed that position, accepting that poor storage and procedure by the Lisbon testing laboratory cast serious doubt on the original finding.

The Modahls learned of yesterday's decision at their Albuquerque training base through a phone call from Istvan Gyulai, the IAAF general secretary. "He said he wanted to be the first to tell us that Diane was free," Vicente said. "It is a fantastic achievement. We produced convincing evidence in a new area which convinced both national and international authorities. I think we have done something incredible."

Diane, who was at Vicente's side when he took the call from Gyulai at just after 10 in the morning local time, was initially confused about the outcome. "Vicente pointed towards me, and I thought, `Oh God. It's something terrible.' But then he shouted out `Yes, yes! We won!' For a few seconds it was great. It is a tremendous relief.

"We had both expected the decision on Sunday from the IAAF, so it meant two sleepless nights for us," she added. "The waiting was traumatic, it was terrible. Vicente sat up in the living room all night last night. I was waking up from time to time and asking: `Is that the phone? Is that the phone?' "

Modahl planned to celebrate the decision with a run in the park which adjoins their apartment block. "It will be a very exhilarating run for me," she said.

But a statement issued by Modahl through her solicitors, Mishcon de Reya, indicated the depth of her anger over her ordeal and boded ill for the British Athletic Federation, which she is suing for compensation after spending an estimated pounds 500,000 on her case.

"I cannot forget the past," she said. "The powerful organisations in control of my sport can make you or break you. I believe there were those who wanted to break me. But I have also had powerful forces on my side."

She continued with a clear warning to the BAF executive chairman, Peter Radford. "The leadership of my sport in Britain must also take responsibility for its actions. It permitted this terrible ordeal to be imposed on me. That leadership was responsible for sending me home in public disgrace from the Commonwealth Games, for suspending me and prosecuting and then banning me.

"To my accusers I only say this: there were too many people who were too eager for too long to condemn me."

The IAAF has now given Modahl unequivocal clearance to prepare for the Olympic Games, and she is committed to running in the British trials.

When the standard second test was performed on Modahl's sample, it was acknowledged by the IAAF that it had suffered degradation from not being kept at a constant, low temperature.

The IAAF argued that this degradation was not significant, but subsequent analysis by Professor Simon Gaskell of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, using samples provided by Modahl, has confirmed that overheated storage conditions can create dramatic increases in testosterone.

A statement read by Gyulai said: "It was found that the Lisbon laboratory had not conducted the additional analysis necessary for clarifying the doubts which were raised at the BAF hearing and that the analytical data were not satisfactory."

Gyulai revealed that Portuguese authorities refused permission for further analysis of the remainder of Modahl's sample.

"While the IAAF council believed that further analysis of the sample could have provided a final resolution of this matter, it was not possible to pursue this course and therefore a serious element of doubt existed," the statement added.

The BAF spokesman, Tony Ward, welcomed the 1990 Commonwealth Games 800m champion back as an Olympic contender.