Christie and Chambers

Good article here from the Observer:

Running away from the truth

Linford Christie is still in denial and, despite the outrage over Dwain Chambers, still defending a sport whose image has been badly damaged

Kevin Mitchell
February 17, 2008 12:12 AM

It is hard to know what to make of Linford Christie, busted for drugs at the end of an otherwise illustrious running career, yet, nine years on, still laughing his sheepish, eyes-down laugh, still denying against overwhelming evidence to the contrary that his sport has been traumatised almost beyond repair by the persistent, unstoppable use of banned substances.

He is 47 and still impressively muscled, as always a slightly scary time-bomb, an athlete whose life has been defined, for good and bad, by his singular ability to run faster than all but a few people on earth.

Christie is still running, from other people’s version of ‘the truth’ and all things difficult. But, were he ever to relent and talk openly about his experiences, he could do so much good for athletics. He could, as the American drugs pedlar Victor Conte put the case for one of his famous customers, Dwain Chambers, last week, be a good guy, a thief set to catch a thief.

But Christie isn’t ready for that sort of redemption. To this day, he denies taking drugs. British officials gave him the benefit of the doubt over traces of nandralone found in his system at a small meeting in Germany when he was in semi-retirement in 1999; the International Amateur Athletics Federation did not. So, he will go to his grave officially a cheat, however uncomfortable that is for him.

In 1988, he lined up with Ben Johnson and other sprinting behemoths in that infamous 100 metres final in Seoul and later was given silver when the Canadian was exposed as a super-charged freak. Then, when Christie himself tested positive for pseudoephedrine, an IOC committee cleared him by 11 votes to 10, believing his story that the juice had been in a few cups of ginseng tea.

Whatever the truth or otherwise of the allegations against Christie, they are surely reason enough for us to ask him about Chambers and his dilemma. You would imagine he would have much to contribute to such a debate. No, he doesn’t see it that way. ‘Let me ask you,’ he says provocatively, ‘What do you think?’ As if he did not know.

No, he doesn’t want to talk about Chambers, he says, because ‘You guys are always writing this negative stuff’. He wants us to know that athletics is still a wholesome family sport. We would be surprised, he reckons, how many parents still bring their kids to him and other coaches.

Ironically or not, Christie does not much care for Chambers, who left his Nuff Respect management team six years ago to join Christie’s business rival and one-time friend, John Regis, at Stellar Athletics. But Christie probably cares for some journalists even less. And he invokes an informal omerta, a vow of sullen silence that serves as a blanket refutation for all tough questions.

But does he really believe people don’t care about the apparently wide and persistent use of banned substances in his sport? Does he think they don’t care about cheating any more? Does he not have a view on Chambers, who was once a friend and is now an unavoidable leper in his sport because administrators cannot technically ignore him since he has done his time for drugs use?

‘Listen,’ he says, ‘It doesn’t matter whether it’s right or wrong [picking Chambers for the World Indoor Championships]. People just want to come and watch the athletics. The quickest from A to B is a straight line. That’s what people come to watch. I just care about me. I’m in my lane. I don’t care what’s in the lane beside me.’

The awful import of what he is saying is that he might be right. Perhaps people are as cynical as he is. We’re just in our own little lanes, eyes straight ahead. What’s the point? Just ‘move on’, he says. Which is exactly what the nice woman from Puma wants us to do. She has been hovering alongside our conversation, interjecting repeatedly when we go off-script, when we ask awkward, unwholesome, un-family questions about drugs. She wants us to talk about Puma’s fashion show in London that night, featuring the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and the lovely Norwegian middle-distance runner Kristine Eikren Engeset. That’s why we’ve been invited to this pleasant hotel, to listen to Linford, a long-time Puma man, chat with Bolt and Engeset about their catwalk gig, and maybe share a few platitudes about their season.

Nearby, endorsing the wholesomeness and selling Puma as sweetly as he possibly can is the company’s chairman, Jochen Zeitz. Smiling, tanned and smart in an open-necked shirt, Zeitz is the epitome of corporate, believable cool. ‘We want to develop products to help athletes’ performance,’ he says. Puma, apparently, are also getting into showbusiness, fashion, sailing, Formula One. What more could you want to know?

We’re spoiling the show. When I remind the v-nice PR woman that is what we do for a living, she says Linford had not wanted any of these questions asked and, no, we could not carry on.

I make a weak joke about this not being China and whatever happened to free speech. Linford, meanwhile, is edged away towards a hotel lift and disappears from our unseemly outburst of insurrection. Good night, and good luck.

And that, more or less, is the problem. It is not just the reviled chemists and the desperate athletes who are wrecking athletics, a sport that once was on a par with cricket and golf for probity; it’s the interested parties clinging to the myth that there is nothing wrong, the multi-national companies who sell billions of shoes and kit on the back of events such as the Olympics.

Not for them the moralising of pesky journalists. Never mind politics, it is sport and public relations that do not mix. Chambers? He is just another chump. His crime, after taking drugs, was to admit it, point out you could not win gold without them - then come back to the sport when everyone thought he had gone away for good.

He is the sport’s walking conscience, though. Sponsors don’t want him anywhere near their meetings, either in Birmingham yesterday, or in Belgium. He will be reduced to picking up the odd payday here and there and then be marginalised again. Athletics will, as Christie says, ‘move on’.

In the United States, meanwhile, at least the debate is robust and in the open. No country on earth has a sports-drugs problem on the scale the Americans do. Athletics. Boxing. Baseball. Football. Politicians and film stars. Hookers and millionaires - they’re all at it, either ‘recreationally’ or to juice up for a medal.

Last week, they were treated to a fine show in Washington. In front of a Congressional panel, Roger Clemens, probably the finest pitcher of modern times, swapped denials and counter-claims over four hours with Brian McNamee, who claimed he had once injected

Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone. It was ugly, loud and, so far, inconclusive. But it was democracy in action. Clemens might be every bit as innocent as Christie says he was - and Chambers says he wasn’t. Or he could be lying through his teeth. Whichever way it goes, that hearing in Congress is some way removed from the tacky little exercise played out in a London hotel last week.

What was remarkable was that Puma thought they could parade Christie in front of the media and expect us not to ask questions about drugs in the very week Chambers was the only story in athletics. Like runners who stick needles in their arms, the people who make the shoes to help them run so beautifully still live in fantasy land.

Any interviews with Christie make him seem almost retarded when it comes to drugs. He seems to think he’s been mistreated in some way and that people shouldn’t mention the fact that he tested positive cos he doesn’t want to hear it. He was greatly offended by the fact that he wasn’t used for the London Olympic bid. He honestly seems to be able to block out the fact that he took drugs, even swearing on his children’s lives in the past that he’s clean. Fook him, he’s a twat and puma are saps(I’ve told them since reading this article to look elsewhere if they wnat a new posterboy, I’m no longer interested).

Chambers is much more interesting, seen as he’s open about his abuse and has served his time.
In any other walk of life he should be allowed to get on with his life(and work) but I think the fact that he denied others medals and could still be seen to be benefitting from his cheating(muscle mass stays there as long as you continue to pump the guns, ooh yeah). Still, can you ban everyone who ransgresses for life? I throw it open to the floorum.

I certainly have a lot more time for Chambers than Christie. Both are cheats but at least one of them admits it. Not sure whether life bans would get past the courts so in the absence of that you just have to accept the rules as they are, despite the flaws.

Cathal Lombard caused a bit of controversy at the weekend by winning the national cross country championship on his return from a drugs ban.

Lombard puts on show but fails to capture audience

IAN O’RIORDAN at Queen’s University playing fields, Belfast

THE FIRST runner-up described what he did as “disgusting”; the second runner-up refused to shake his hand, saying, “You can’t trust someone like that.” And this was only part of the response to Cathal Lombard’s winning of the National Interclubs cross country title.

Among the traditions of the race is the roar of admiration that greets champions in their moment of triumph - which is always genuine, and always justified given the sacredness of this title. Yet Lombard’s moment in Belfast on Saturday was greeted with a death-like silence, the sombre eyes of Irish athletics supporters not quite believing what they were seeing, or simply not wanting to believe.

Among them were several great champions of the past: Samus Power, Jerry Kiernan, Derek Graham, Tom O’Riordan. Power’s face, in particular, was a sorry mix of disbelief and disappointment.

Dick Hooper, the famous marathoner and Raheny devotee, was wandering about with the look of a man who had just had his heart torn out. “That’s a disaster for Irish athletics,” he said.

This is what happens when a self-confessed drug cheat returns to the sport. Lombard, following a few months of dramatic improvement, tested positive for the endurance-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO) just prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics. Once busted, he admitted using EPO, and was given the automatic two-year ban.

Now aged 32, and his sentence served, Lombard had been spotted in a couple of minor races in recent months; he finished second in the Cork cross-country in November. Yet few anticipated such an all-conquering run on Saturday, when he raced away from the pre-race favourite, Alistair Cragg, with remarkable ease and won by eight seconds. It was his first Interclubs title.

“I’m delighted, it’s a great feeling to win,” he told the race announcer next to the medal podium. “I always run good on a tough course, and over the mud I’m as tough as anyone out there.”

As if on cue, Lombard was then led away for a drug test.

We followed with some more searching questions: When was he last drug tested? How does he feel about his return to the sport?

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

But what do you have to say about your past, and that you’ve served your two-year ban?

“Nothing to say.”

No apology, no apparent remorse. No wonder the Corkman had run in near silence; spectators at the Queen’s University playing fields kept hands in pockets as he passed before promptly removing them to applaud Cragg, who was leading the chase. Cragg closed on the last of the six laps, but his chase ended in vain - though he did lead Clonliffe to the team title.

Clearly the mud hadn’t suited Cragg, though he had not arrived from his US base to finish second.

He didn’t want to sound like a sore loser, but he did want to make his feelings known about athletes who return from drug bans.

“I don’t condone what he did. It was pretty disgusting . . . I’m surprised people took him in. He shouldn’t get away with something like that. I think it’s really unfair a guy can do what he did and only get that long off the sport. That’s the rules of the IAAF, but to me, if a guy decides to takes that route in life, he should never be allowed to get back to what he does. A guy with a criminal record . . . doesn’t get a job like a guy without one.”

Cragg then appeared to suggest that Lombard might still be benefiting from his previous EPO use: "Whatever he did, he still has the same body that took him there. He’s obviously known he’s taken his body to another level and wants to get back there. And whatever he feels, as person, to get there, that’s his choice. If he won today and he knows he didn’t win it fairly then that’s his problem.

“Do I believe he’s clean now? I have no idea. It’s not for me to say . . . He beat me fair and square today. But if he tests positive again I’ll have something to say.”

Vinny Mulvey from Raheny, the 2006 champion, finished in third, 24 seconds adrift of Lombard, and purposely refused to shake his hand on the medal podium.

“I have respect for everyone, but not him,” said Mulvey. “My view is if you get done for drugs you should be done for life. Some people will say it’s water under the bridge now, but you can’t trust someone like that.”

Cragg and Mulvey will run the World Cross Country in Edinburgh later this month as automatic qualifiers, but Lombard has declined selection, saying he’d be “too busy” with business interests.

However, it still seems likely he will run the Rotterdam marathon on April 13th with a view to Olympic qualification - and if he achieves that, the debate over his return will be further inflamed.

Also unfortunate about Lombard’s win on Saturday was how it overshadowed the three other races, particularly for the senior women’s champion, Fionnuala Britton of Wicklow.

In one of the greatest individual runs in the long history of the race, Britton (23) retained her title by a massive 55 seconds.

Maria McCambridge and Linda Byrne, both of Dundrum, finished second and third.

Dundrum did provide the winner of the junior women’s title, Charlotte Ffrench-O’Carroll finishing 11 seconds clear of her twin, Rebecca, while Michael Mulhare of North Laois ran with great courage to hold off Craig Murphy of Togher for the junior men’s title.

Re Cathal Lombard

Impressive bump

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