måndag 30 mars 2009

Duncan Mackay: I have been here before

I am currently in Berlin covering the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Council meeting, which is being held in the Inter Continental hotel and its feels like I have been transported back in time.
That is because the last time the Council met in this city was at this very hotel in October 2003 and top of the agenda then was Dwain Chambers. A couple of weeks previously I had exclusively revealed the news that the British sprinter had tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid THG and his name was on the lips of everyone in the sport.
Fast forward six years and nothing has changed, it appears. The question in the hotel lobby everyone - from Sebastian Coe, who is a vice-president of the IAAF to the journalists covering the meeting - is: "How do you solve a problem like Dwain?" His newly published book, Race Against Me, has been like a hand grenade dropped on the sport. The lurid description about the extent of his drug-taking in the years between 2001 and 2003, and how easily he avoided detection have upset many. So have his allegations that half the United States team that competed in the Olympics at Beijing last year had either taken drugs or were still using them. Then there are the personal attacks on leading figures like Coe, Colin Moynihan and Niels de Vos.
He has certainly not set out to win friends and influence people. Which is fine - this is after all his story and his version of what happened - except that Chambers still wants to have a future in the sport. And it is therefore no surprise that those people running athletics are not exactly falling over themselves to help him achieve that. The IAAF are particularly upset because they feel that they have done everything they can to help rehabilitate the disgraced Briton. Lamine Diack, the organisation's President, even spoke out on behalf of Chambers last year when UK Athletics were trying to freeze him out and they have allowed him the opportunity to give back the prize and appearance money he fraudlently won while he was taking drugs on a pay as he earns basis. Their argument is if Chambers, as he keeps claiming, now wants to be a force for good why does he keep conjuring up such unhelpful headlines for a sport that is struggling to retain the hearts and minds of the public, jaded by so many drugs scandals involving its heroes? The final straw was insidethegames' story last week that Chambers has resumed a working relationship with Victor Conte, the man who had supplied him with the cocktail of drugs in the first place. Chambers claims that they are determined to put right what they did wrong and are now working on a revolutionary new technique that involves him alternately breathing low and high oxygen air through a hypoxicator in a techinque that causes the body to begin creating its own Erythropoietin (EPO), the hormone that stimulates red blood cell production. People are naturally suspicious of how Chambers is now managing to run faster now than he did before when he had enough rocket fuel in his body to power him to the moon. No other athlete coming back from a drugs ban has managed that before so it is natural that people want to know how come Chambers can do it. He can have no complaints about that, especially now he has again started working with Conte. The ironic thing is, that the amount of people here who have actually read the book that has got Chambers into so much new trouble, is a very small minority indeed. Coe, for example, whose private life is the subject of so many pages had not seen a copy until I showed him mine. I hope that the money Chambers received for writing the book is worth the aggravation it is now causing him. The only thing we can certain of is Dwain Chambers' name will still be on people's lips for a while yet.

Published: Inside the Games
By Duncan Mackay - 21 March 2009

Note: Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of insidethegames.com. He was the 2004 British Sports Journalist of the Year and was the athletics correspondent of The Guardian for 11 years. He was the writer that exposed Dwain Chambers as a drug

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