London 2012: Chambers deserves shot at Olympic redemption
Sportsbeat's James Toney reflects on the Court of Arbitration for Sport's ruling over the BOA's lifetime drugs cheat ban
Two things that can be guaranteed should Dwain Chambers – now free to compete – qualify to represent Team GB at London 2012.
First, he won’t win a 100m medal, unless there are a lot of false starts. Second, he won’t be booed either.
Those who fear or hope the London 2012 crowds will turn on convicted drugs cheats, now free to compete at the Games after the Court of Arbitration for Sport struck a thick black line through the British Olympic Association’s lifetime ban, are going to be disappointed.
Boo boys – and girls – remain a preserve of the football terraces.
Chambers, despite his well-publicised past transgression, is not short of supporters – either on the track or in the crowd.
When an editorial in the influential Athletics Weekly asked fans at make their feelings known about Chambers when he returned from his drugs ban, they responded by sitting on their hands and shutting their mouths, the silence was almost deafening. Was it just indifference or were they just too polite? Perhaps a bit of both.
Even Paula Radcliffe, the most outspoken British athlete on matters doping, is now a fully paid-up member of Team Dwain.
It’s nearly a decade since Chambers tested positive for the banned steroid THG and yet still remains a pariah, albeit, perversely, one with plenty of friends.
In that time Justin Gatlin has won an Olympic title, served a four-year ban, come back to the sport and been feted with big-money invitations to top events, such as the next month’s IAAF Diamond League opener in Doha.
Chambers, in contrast, has continued to pay back the prize money that he won before his suspension and is still banned from the majority of major invitational meetings, his biggest potential source of income.
He can only arch an eyebrow at the treatment dished out to David Millar, the other headline athlete set to benefit from Monday’s Cas decision. Millar served his two-year ban and walked straight back into a well-paid job with one of professional cycling’s top teams.
In addition, those who Chambers will be battling it out with for the three available 100m places at this summer’s Olympics are also supportive of his second chance this summer – even if he could deny them a place on the team.
It’s a separate story but one of the saddest sub-plots to this whole sorry saga is a 34-year-old well past his prime is seen as our best hope in the blue-riband event of the Games. By rights, he shouldn’t even be qualifying for London 2012 or the British relay team.
While he said some crassly stupid things while publicising his autobiography, Chambers has otherwise worked hard to recalibrate his image.
Indeed one of his biggest fans is UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee, who has built a career on his reputation as a taskmaster and refusing to suffer fools. He likes what Chambers brings to the team, his work ethic and, in particular, his attitude towards mentoring younger athletes.
What price a man with a mischievous streak, remember Tiffany Porter’s captaincy at the World Indoor Championships, not handing Chambers the armband for the Olympics? Then again, not even Charles is that controversial.
In the build-up to the 2009 World Championships, Chambers talked a lot about ‘Project Bolt’ – his not-so-secret and rather ill-conceived plan to dethrone the Jamaican.
He rightly doesn’t talk about it so much anymore, perhaps realising his 13-year-old legal personal best of 9.97 seconds would have placed him only sixth at the Beijing Olympics, while last year he was ranked 23rd in the world. However, Project Redemption remains right on track.
Dwain might be the big winner tonight, in contrast to BOA chairman Colin Moynihan.
He remains determined to become a focal point for those who want much-needed reform in the way doping policy is administered and punishments handed out.
Perhaps personal experience might be the cause of this campaigning zeal, because Moynihan would almost certainly be an Olympic champion if it were not for doping cheats.
He was cox to the silver medal winning British eight at the 1980 Moscow Games, a crew soundly beaten by East German rivals pumped high with just about every illegal substance imaginable.
And a coach on that “all-conquering” East German team, who won 11 of the 14 available gold medals? Jurgen Grobler.
Of course Grobler is now better known as the architect of British Rowing’s incredible success of recent years. He’s admitted wrongdoing and moved on, his talents rightly – and thankfully for the Team GB medal count – not allowed to be subject to a hardline lifetime ban.
So surely the same should apply to Chambers?
© Sportsbeat 2012