Dwain Chambers: 'The penalties are so harsh you lose your credibility'

The reformed British drugs cheat speaks of his disappointment at the recent positive tests of fellow sprinters

Simon Turnbull
Friday 09 August 2013 17:40

It's saying something when even someone once fuelled by the sporting equivalent of White and Pinkman Pharmaceuticals is left lamenting the track and field world's perpetual propensity for breaking bad. "It's sad to see that people I look up to have fallen into the same trap that I once did," Dwain Chambers said, contemplating the enforced absence of Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell from the field for the men's 100m at the World Championships, which begin here tomorrow. "Unfortunately they haven't learned from my experience."

It is unfortunate indeed. Gay and Powell are the latest in a long line of high-profile sprinters, stretching back to Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, to have fallen foul of the drug-testing system. The American Gay and Jamaica's Powell tested positive for banned substances a month ago and will not be challenging Usain Bolt for the coveted global 100m crown in the Russian capital this weekend.

Chambers – now officially a "veteran" at 35 – will be among the contenders. It was 10 years ago that the Londoner was busted for taking a cocktail of banned performance-enhancing substances, supplied by Victor Conte and his Balco drugs factory in the San Francisco Bay area. He served a two-year ban, lost a fortune and his good name, and has spent the past six years striving to rebuild his reputation as a reformed, fully repentant sinner.

Yet still the stain of "drugs cheat" remains on his curriculum vitae – underlined in red every time there is another drugs scandal that clouds the track and field horizon.

"It's disappointing to see when this happens," Chambers continued. "I don't know what motivates people to do these things. They should basically be able to look at what I went through.

"It's been a tough road for me and that itself should be enough of a deterrent for these athletes. We just have to find the true root of why these people make these decisions and hopefully we can start changing the way they think.

"They've seen what I've gone through. They've seen what the relevant punishments are. But it makes it difficult for the sport. It's something that I wouldn't want to encourage anybody to do because the penalties are so harsh that they wouldn't be able to come back into the sport with any credibility.

"I know that myself and all the British athletes are routinely tested and there shouldn't be any positive tests coming out of the British camp. Hopefully everyone else will fall in line with what we want to achieve and we'll start to see lesser and lesser cases of doping in sport."

To that end, there have been strident calls for longer bans and the International Association of Athletics Federations, meeting in congress here, voted to increase suspensions for serious offences from two years to four years. Some figures in the sport have called for life bans and even jail sentences. Having been on the punishment end himself, what would the prodigal Chambers suggest as a suitable deterrent?

"Difficult question for me to answer," the Belgrave Harrier pondered. "I've been the other side of it, so I know what it can be like. But I guess it's not for me to make a decision on that. I'm just blessed that I've been given another opportunity to get back and be able to run. The rules and decisions have to be made by the relevant people. It's not for me to say."

Could he say whether the news of Gay and Powell testing positive brought back memories of his own drugs bust, though? "Not really," Chambers said. "That's something I've been trying to forget as best as I can, because it wasn't a nice experience.

"The moment I did hear about Tyson and Asafa I was just disappointed, because it doesn't help the sport and it doesn't help the other athletes," he added. "And this is a sport that I still enjoy and my kids enjoy and it's not something that I want my kids to be seeing. I don't want to have to explain to them that these things are still going on."

Paradoxically, however, Chambers maintains that – for all of the recent taints – the men's 100m has not lost its lustre as the blue riband event of track and field.

"I don't think so," he said. "Everybody's still excited to see Usain. That's the driving force of the sport at the moment and people enjoy watching him run. Those of us who are chasing him just want to see how fast they can run behind him.

"I don't think it's lost any credibility. It has just put a damper on the spirit of the sport. But fortunately it will blow over and hopefully we'll unearth some new talent who can perform well and bring some excitement to the sport."

Drug cheats to get four-year bans from 2015

The IAAF will hand four-year suspensions to athletes who are caught doping from 2015.

The sport has been thrown into turmoil after Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Veronica Campbell-Brown all failed tests. The IAAF has now moved to reaffirm its "unwavering commitment" against doping. A statement said: "The new Wada [World Anti-Doping Agency] Code, which will come into force on 1 January 2015, will reflect our firm commitment to have tougher penalties and the IAAF will return to four-year sanctions for serious doping offences."

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