Votes of confidence for Vicente Modahl

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Athletes managed by Vicente Modahl pledged their support for him yesterday in the wake of the decision by a British Athletic Federation panel to uphold a four-year doping ban on his wife, Diane.

As the Modahls work on preparing their case anew for a further appeal to the BAF - unlikely to occur before February - there has been speculation about Vicente Modahl's position as a registered athletes' representative with the British federation. Shoul

d Diane Modahl fail to exonerate herself, there will be uneasiness - at the very least - that her husband, coach and manager should continue to deal with the careers of some of Britain's best young athletes.

Yet, in the wake of this week's BAF hearing, those athletes - including Steve Smith, the European high jump silver medallist, and David Grindley, the British 400 metres record holder, are steadfast in their support of both Vicente and Diane Modahl.

Britain's 1500m runner Kevin McKay has known Diane Modahl for seven years as a fellow member of Sale Harriers, travelling with her on many foreign training trips. He also counts himself as one of the closest athletes to Vicente, who has guided his careersince he moved to this country from his native Norway in 1992.

"I would not consider moving away from Modahl for two reasons," McKay said. "Firstly he has done a superb job for me as a manager from day one. He had no recognition from anyone when he came over here, but like myself, David Grindley and Steve Smith havebeen more than happy with what he has done for us.

"The other reason I would not consider moving is that I know Diane is innocent. And if she was found guilty by another five hearings I would still know she is innocent.

"Steve and David and I have obviously discussed the situation since Diane was tested positive. We know exactly what kind of people Vicente and Diane are, their morals and their view on drugs.

"We have all trained with Diane, and she has bad days and good days in training. You can predict the way she will race from her training. She doesn't do anything out of the blue.

"I can personally say that Vicente has never made any suggestion to me about taking drugs. He has always been strongly against them."

Curtis Robb, who left Modahl's group at the end of 1993 after a year's contract, confirmed the impression of a man who was vociferous against drug abuse. Speculation about drug-takers is a frequent topic of conversation among athletes, and Robb recalls how Vicente Modahl, who made his mark as manager of Said Aouita during his world record breaking days, was in favour of life bans for drug abusers rather than a four-year penalty.

"He always said to me that you didn't need to take drugs to be world class, and that Aouita had got to the top without taking drugs," Robb said. "The only reason I left the group was because, in the end, Vicente wanted to do too much for me and I felt that I needed more flexibility in my racing while I continued my medical studies."

Grindley heard the news of the Modahl verdict when he came back from Manchester's Metropolitan University, where he is studying accounting. "He was just rocked by it all," Grindley's mother, Margaret said."He stood there and said, `It's just not true. It's just not true'."

McKay maintains that the popular perception that Vicente Modahl is the dominant partner in his marriage and Diane the passive partner is a misleading one.

"People have gained that impression because they have judged it by the last four months. Obviously Diane didn't want to go out and defend herself against the charges, and luckily she had Vicente to do it for her.

"It is convenient for him to arrange her athletics career and he has a lot of ideas about coaching which she takes advantage of. But Diane is one of the most strong-minded people you could ever meet. If she doesn't want to do a certain session or race, she won't. She has a lot of interests which are part of her own life - she has done modelling work, she is studying for a degree, she has a large family that she spends a lot of time with.

"Sometimes there are clashes with Vicente because of the time these take up away from her athletics. He doesn't isolate her, or organise her whole life."

nAccording to the International Amateur Athletic Federation spokesman, Christopher Winner, members of the Portuguese laboratory which tested the sample which brought about Modahl's ban would be under no more obligation to attend a BAF appeal than they were to attend this week's BAF hearing.

"The Portuguese staff are not compelled to attend anyone's hearing, whether it is the BAF or the IAAF," Winner said. "They have conducted the test. They have provided the result. They have supported the result."