11th May 2009

Official Line Column

11 May 2009

Article by Ed Warner as seen in Athletics Weekly Magazine

Last Thursday I awoke to Radio 5’s sports bulletin trumpeting two items of athletics news that encapsulated the challenges facing our sport worldwide. Usain Bolt had written-off his BMW and injured himself in the process (or, as it transpired, in stepping out of his car afterwards). And three athletes had failed drugs tests after retesting of samples taken at the Beijing Olympics, including Rashid Ramzi the 1500m gold medallist.

Such are the hopes vested by athletics in Bolt’s magnetic performances and mesmerising track presence that it is no surprise that there was a collective flinching at news of his accident and a mass sigh of relief that his injuries appear minor. Until the cupboard of global athletic superstars becomes more fully stocked, however, the spotlight on the world’s greatest sprinter will remain intense.

The Jamaican’s impact is in part, of course, a reflection of his performances. But it also derives from the belief that he represents the end to a tainted era of sprinting, and by extension fans the flame of hope that the efforts of anti-doping authorities and clean athletes alike can rid the sport of its drug cloud.

All of which makes the news of the failed tests on the Beijing samples a timely reminder that there is much still to be done by our authorities. With the results of B samples yet to be determined, it would be wrong to comment on any of the specific cases made public last week.

However, the IOC’s decision to store samples for eight years after each Games to allow retesting as technology improves was clearly a positive move. If it has reaped rewards in rooting out drugs cheats so soon after the last Olympics then the deterrent effect can only be magnified. In a way this is a cleft stick – does one hope for failed tests to prove the system works, or for no failed tests to demonstrate that the sport is clean? The only right answer is to hope that all cheats are discovered, however many their number.   

At the time of writing, it is still uncertain whether Usain Bolt will be able to fulfil his commitment to run in the 150m street race in Manchester in just over a week’s time. I hope he does – not just because it will be great for the British public to have a first chance to see him in action after his Beijing triumphs, but because this will be a valuable test of the appeal of street athletics.

Regular readers of this column will know that I’m keen for our sport to explore novel settings. Nova’s initiative next weekend is to be applauded. I’m also a supporter of Linford Christie and Darren Campbell’s Street Athletics for young talent. Last week Boris Johnson and Kate Hoey announced an intention to support street athletics in every London borough as part of their 2012 legacy planning. There’s much more we and England Athletics must do to ensure a vibrant legacy from the Games, but it is encouraging to see this positive step from the Mayor’s team.