Mark Richardson, whose doping ban has been lifted by the International Amateur Athletics Federation, yesterday said that he could not have returned to the sport unless his name had been cleared.
"The most important thing to me is not the fact that I will be able to run again this summer but that I've got my integrity and my dignity back," the 28-year-old Windsor athlete said, less than 24 hours after hearing that his two-year suspension for an adverse nandrolone test, which would have kept him out of the sport until December 2002, had been discontinued under the IAAF's "exceptional circumstances" rule. "I don't think I would have been able to come back into athletics if it had been a case of simply serving out a two-year ban," he said.
Coming close to tears, he added: "I come from a very proud family. To have had this hanging over me would not just have been a slur on my name, it would have been a slur on the way my parents brought me up, and that would have been too much to bear."
Richardson who satisfied the IAAF that his high levels of nandrolone had been the result of a contaminated food supplement and is now educating athletes about such potential dangers told a press conference of the "roller-coaster" of emotions he had suffered since notification of his adverse test on 26 November, 1999.
"It was a horrible feeling of being lost," he said. "I had no rational explanation for what had happened, and I didn't know what direction my life was going to go in. Lots of times I didn't bother to train I couldn't put myself through that kind of duress with no good reason. The thing that kept me going was the fact that I was telling the truth and I believed honesty and justice would prevail in the end and fortunately they have."
He estimated that he had incurred between £40,000 to £50,000 in legal costs in a case which saw him cleared by a UK Athletics panel on 21 August last year, only to have the decision referred to arbitration by the IAAF. Richardson pulled out of the Olympics amid fears of negative publicity while further scientific evidence was being analysed at the International Olympic Committee laboratory in Cologne.
He could only estimate the commercial rewards he would have received had he won a medal in Sydney, something he believed he would have been well capable of. But Mike Whittingham, Richardson's manager, said the figure could have been close to £500,000 and added that they were exploring legal options.
According to British Olympic Association rules, no British competitor can run in the Olympics if they have incurred a serious doping ban, but Whittingham said he was hopeful that the authorities would take an understanding view of his client's case. Richardson himself was reluctant to look that far ahead, preferring to concentrate on a season which offers him the prospect of making up for lost time at the World Championships in Edmonton two months hence.
He confirmed that he would seek to return to action as part of the 400m relay team at next weekend's European Cup in Bremen. "I'm not quite as fit as I'd like to be because I've had an Achilles tendon injury, but I wouldn't want to go out and race if I wasn't competitive," he said.
The IAAF has been at pains to point out that Richardson's case has been truly exceptional, in that he has been able to offer scientific evidence relating to the original batch of food supplements he had taken before the out-of-competition test.
Asked if he had sympathy for sportsmen and women who had tested positive for nandrolone, including footballers like the Dutch international Edgar Davids, he commented: "I can't speak for anyone else's circumstances, but if they were in the same situation as I was my heart goes out to them."
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