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But for today, we thought we'd look at a story that has been around in the news for a while now, but one that we missed while I was in the USA - the story of Dwain Chambers.
Dwain Chambers: A headache for sports authorities, but a case control study on the state of doping
Dwain Chambers of Britain was one of the world's most promising sprinters - in 1999, at the age of 21, he claimed bronze at the World Athletics Championships in Spain.
He went on to win the European Championships in 2002, but never really made the big breakthrough, living in the shadow of the dominant sprinter of the early 2000's, Maurice Greene.
Then, in 2003, the wheels came off for Chambers, when his performances were poor, and he failed a drugs test in August. It was subsequently revealed that he had tested positive for THG, the designer steroid made famous by the BALCO scandal. It was Chamber's use of THG that landed him with a 2-year ban from the sport. He later admitted to having used THG since 2002, which would cost him (and team-mates) medals from the 2002 European Championships.
During his ban, Chambers dabbled in American Football, including a failed tryout with the San Francisco 49ers. He eventually returned to competitive athletics in 2006, and even won a medal as part of the British relay team at the 2006 European Championships. It was after this race that one of his team-mates from the 2002 European Championships, Darren Campbell, refused to join the team on the victory lap, in protest against Chamber's drug past. Campbell, along with 2 other team-mates, had been stripped of their own gold medals in 2002 thanks to Chambers' confessed use of THG.
The headache grows - Chambers finds form indoors
But the looming problem for the British Athletic authorities was only going to get bigger. Chambers has returned to form in 2008, and won the British Indoor Championships, having expressed his intention of qualifying for the World Indoor Championships.
The problem for the authorities is that Chambers had effectively retired from athletics in 2006, after the European Champs, when he had again attempted to start a career in American Football with the NFL Europa league. This was mixed in with a stint on a reality TV show, but the net result was that British authorities took Chambers off their list of athletes who would be tested out of competition.
However, on his return, Chambers did everything required of an athlete to qualify for the British team, even winning the indoor 60m title which SHOULD have guaranteed him his place.
But the situation is not so simple - understandably, the British athletics authorities do not want Chambers in their team. In their words:
"The committee was unanimous in its desire not to select Dwain".And this was AFTER he'd been selected for the team, amid threats of lawsuits and counter-threats should he be omitted.
However, the fact was that there was no law in place to exclude Chambers and so the only basis for leaving him out would be an "exceptional circumstances" clause. This "exceptional circumstance" might have been that Chambers CANNOT run in the Beijing Olympics, thanks to a British Olympic law that gives a life-time ban to any athlete failing a dope test.
They chose not to make use of that law, possibly fearing reprisal from Chambers' lawyers, and so now we will see Chambers competing in a British vest come the World Indoor Championships in March.
But there's more to Chambers than this
So having said just this, Chambers' story is not exceptional. But then you begin to consider some of the things he has said since he was caught and banned. For example, in an interview with Matthew Pinsent in mid-2007, Chambers had the following to say about doping in sport:
In one sense, one has to applaud Chambers' honesty, as it makes a change from the usual conspiracy theories and denial that characterizes most positive tests these days - the usual tactic is to attack the testers, cry smear campaign, and deny every accusation. Chambers chose instead to speak his mind, revealing what most athletes probably think before they too use drugs.
"It's simple, science always moves faster than the testers. Some people take chances, some don't, and I was willing to take that chance. I was under the assumption that I wouldn't get caught."
But then later on, Chambers was asked whether a clean athlete could possibly beat a doped runner, his reply was:
"It's possible, but the person that's taken drugs has to be having a real bad day. That's what I believe."This was seen to be a 'confession' that most of the top, successful athletes were using drugs and that success was not possible without the use of drugs. This common interpretation of Chambers' comments is probably taken a little out of context, but it earned Chambers almost universal condemnation from former and present British athletes. Now that Chambers is part of the British athletics scene once again, the viewpoints have been expressed from all corners.
For example, in response to Chambers' selection for the World Indoor team for 2008, Dame Kelly Holmes, double Olympic Champion from Athens, was quoted as saying that:
"This was an athlete who went to America, knowingly took a drug that was undetectable at the time, got caught, admitted he'd taken drugs, then went on to say that you can't win anything without taking drugs. It doesn't put us in a good light allowing a cheat, who has admitted he's a cheat, to represent us."Harsh words, which encapsulate just how strongly some feel about Chambers' inclusion and the possibility that he will be fighting for an Olympic berth later this year. For more quotes and reaction to the story, check out this article.
The interesting possibility of a case control comparison of past vs. present
But apart from all the ethical and legal arguments that this issue has raised, there is also an interesting possible "case-control" study that may arise as a result. I for one, will be very interested to see just how Chambers fares this season.
Because what we have here is an athlete who admitted to using a steroid over a very clearly defined time-period, who is now competing, supposedly drug free.
So lets' say that Chambers comes back and runs the same times as he did during his drug-use days. If this happens, it invites three interesting possible conclusions, the first two of which are:
- Either he is still using drugs, and they are providing the same effect as before
- The drugs he used did not work to begin with
That's a tricky situation to be in - success means suspicion, while avoiding suspicion requires mediocre performances! Of course, there is the third possibility which is that he is now drug-free and still performs at the same levels thanks to his training and dedication, but then being the cynics we are, that's a far less likely scenario!
So it will be very interesting to see how Chambers fares in the coming months. The possible legal wranglings on the horizon will also make for interesting discussion, should Chambers go after the Olympic Games as he's threatened to do. But for now, we'll keep an eye on his performances and see just how he performs!