Positive drug test for Irish athlete

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Drugs in sport

Maria McMahon, the Irish 5,000 metres runner, tested positive for a banned stimulant after Friday's qualifying heats, it was announced here yesterday, writes Mike Rowbottom from Atlanta.

McMahon, who now faces a three-month ban, took two pain killers which contained banned substances. She was reported to have said that she had declared the painkillers in question on her standard athlete's form, and had not realised that she would incur any punishment. She failed to qualify for Sunday's final, finishing 14th in a time of 15min 59.12sec.

David Guiney, the Irish team spokesman, said McMahon apparently took Advil, an over-the-counter pain reliever, for a sore leg. "Naturally, she is very distressed because she had no intention whatsoever of trying to cheat anybody," he said.

She is the second Irish athlete to fail a doping test after the Windsor, Slough and Eton long jumper Jonathan Krone, who received a three-month ban last year.

McMahon, 21, comes from Ennistymon, County Clare, but has been studying at Providence University, Rhode Island, since 1994. She is currently the NCAA 5,000m indoor champion and came 23rd in this year's cross-country championship. She was second in the Irish 5,000m championships, setting a personal best of 15min 43.00sec.

The announcement comes after widespread speculation in the American press that the Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, who won three golds and a bronze, had made her dramatic improvement this year with the assistance of illegal substances. Smith has repeatedly denied these allegations, stressing that she has been regularly drug tested.

McMahon's was not a doping offence which carries the maximum four-year ban, but appeared to be more a case of ignorance. Even so, given the week they have had, the Irish could have done without it.

Their unhappy day was compounded when Sonia O'Sullivan, whom the Irish had been hoping would emulate Smith on the track, failed to qualify in the 1500m, having dropped out of last Sunday's 5,000m final with a stomach bug.