Nesterenko's victory dulled by drug crisis

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The Independent Online

Kelli White was at home in Union City, California, on Saturday night when the Olympic women's 100 metres was run. She was on standby for police protection, lest anyone should threaten the state's star witness in the case against the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative.

Kelli White was at home in Union City, California, on Saturday night when the Olympic women's 100 metres was run. She was on standby for police protection, lest anyone should threaten the state's star witness in the case against the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative.

It was different a year ago. White was the sensation of the world championships in Paris, blitzing to a 100m and 200m double. But then someone sent a syringe to the United States Anti-Doping Agency. It was found to contain an anabolic steroid which had been custom-designed to avoid detection.

And thus the murky underworld of track and field in the United States slowly came to light. Faced with incriminating documentary evidence, White confessed to having been fuelled by illegal pharmaceutical products: a steroid (tetrahydrogestrinone or THG), a blood booster (erythropoietin or EPO), and a stimulant (modafinil).

It has since been discovered that five of the six women's sprint medals awarded in Paris were won by athletes who have used performance-enhancing aids. And that is not to mention that the first two finishers in the women's 100m final at the Sydney Olympics - Marion Jones and Ekaterina Thanou - happen to be under scrutiny by authorities investigating possible drug use.

It was against this backdrop that the barely-heralded Yuliya Nesterenko became the new champion. Running in lane six, the tall Belarussian summoned a blistering finish in the final 40m to snatch victory from Lauryn Williams of the United States in 10.93sec.

In doing so, the 25-year-old became the first European winner of the Olympic women's 100m crown since the Russian Lyudmila Kondratyeva won on home ground in Moscow in 1980. She was superbly consistent, having won her first round heat in 10.94sec (breaking the 11-second barrier for the first time), her quarter-final in 10.99sec and her semi-final in 10.93sec.

Given that she has risen from 113th place in last year's world rankings, however, it was inevitable that first question Nesterenko faced in the aftermath of victory was about how many times she had been tested for drugs this year. "I was tested at the World Indoor Championships in Budapest in March," she replied, "and at the Golden League meeting in Rome in June. I have also been tested once out of competition."

Nesterenko did show potential in Budapest, taking the 60m bronze behind Gail Devers of the United States and the Belgian Kim Gevaert, who both exited at the semi-final stage on Saturday (as did the 44-year-old Merlene Ottey and, by one place, the rapidly improving Briton Abi Oyepitan). Inevitably, though, Nesterenko was pressed further about her emphatic improvement.

"I have changed many things," she said. "First of all, we finally got our own apartment, me and my husband. Before, we used to live with my parents. It wasn't comfortable. Secondly, I was training in a different way and tried some new things. And, most of all, I was preparing all the year thinking about the Olympics and that helped me."

But precisely what had she changed in her training? "We added a lot of weightlifting," Nesterenko said, "but I cannot give you any more details about my training."

It was inevitable, too, that the new champion was asked what she thought about so many of the leading female sprinters being absent. "Of course, I'm very, very sorry that these athletes were not able to participate," she said. "I would have liked to have competed against Ekaterina Thanou, but what can I say?"

It would have been interesting to discover what Thanou's coach, Christos Tzekos, had to say about the 641 boxes of supplements discovered in a raid by Greek government officials on his warehouse earlier in the day. The supplements all contained the banned stimulant ephedrine.

They had apparently been confiscated earlier this year - only to have found their way back into the possession of a man who has become known to his fellow Greeks as "The Chemist".

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