Mark Richardson was reinstated to competition yesterday when the International Amateur Athletic Federation cut short his two-year doping suspension under its "exceptional circumstances" rule.
The 28-year-old Windsor athlete, who will now be able to compete at the World Championships in Edmonton this summer, has always maintained that he never knowingly took the banned steroid nandrolone which showed up in a test taken on 25 October, 1999.
Richardson's suspicions that he may have incurred the adverse findings through taking contaminated food supplements have been accepted by the IAAF, which considered an analysis conducted at the International Olympic Committee-accredited Cologne laboratory.
However, the international governing body made it clear that it was also taking into account his acceptance of the suspension once he saw evidence of banned substances in his sample. It also praised his commitment to warning other athletes of the potential dangers of supplements through a series of articles and talks.
"The IAAF has given me back my dignity and my integrity and I thank all of those who have helped me for all their support," Richardson said yesterday.
Like fellow British athletes Linford Christie, Gary Cadogan and Doug Walker, Richardson was cleared by a UK Athletics panel on the grounds that there was reasonable doubt over whether the adverse findings had appeared intentionally only to have the decision overruled by the IAAF. Under its "strict liability" ruling, the IAAF holds athletes responsible for the contents of drug-tainted samples regardless of the circumstances.
But, unlike his colleagues, Richardson did not pursue his case to arbitration, accepting he was bound under international rules to incur a ban. The timing of that decision, on the brink of last year's Olympics, was particularly painful. "I am gutted," Richardson said then. "But my ultimate aim is to prove to the IAAF that I did not commit a doping offence." Although he has not strictly achieved that, the ultimate wisdom of a policy he adopted after discussions with his manager, Mike Whittingham, has now been proven.
"This is a very special situation," an IAAF spokesman said yesterday. "He accepted our verdict, even though he had had a bum deal, and he didn't try to sue us or challenge the system. He also volunteered to educate other athletes, and that is something he will still do even though he is now free to run again."
Whittingham said yesterday that Richardson's first individual 400 metres run was likely to come as a guest at the Great Britain v United States match in Glasgow on 1 July, although he hoped to be added to the 400m relay squad for next weekend's European Cup in Bremen.
A statement yesterday from UK Athletics pointed out that of 700 tests conducted on British athletes in the last 12 months, none had produced further nandrolone positives. "Although nandrolone continues to be a problem in other sports and within athletics internationally," it added, "we are pleased that the lessons learnt from the unfortunate experiences of athletes like Mark appear to have been heeded by our athletes."
Richardson is still recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, but he has indicated in his sporadic outings since the adverse test became public that he can perform at the highest level.
Before the Olympics, he was second to the world record holder, Michael Johnson, in Brussels in 44.72 seconds, and won the IAAF grand prix final in Qatar just after the Games. With Johnson retired from international championships, Richardson can earn further rewards at Edmonton in August.
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