Tag Archives: Athletics

Chambers avoids the selection loophole, and embarrasses his fellow athletes

Dwain Chambers has been selected for the GB athletics squad for the World Indoor Championships in Valencia.

It is of course controversial, and UK Athletics chief Niels de Vos (I will have to try and remain impartial here, as de Vos was chief executive of Sale Sharks and Stockport County under the banner of Cheshire Sports, the sporting arm of multi-millionaire Brian Kennedy. Their decision making severely impacted on the way County was run and arguably endangered the club. Anyway…) was all but demanding the selection committee to activate a loophole in the selection process to avoid selecting him.

The loophole, which allows the selection committee to choice another athlete in “exceptional circumstances” mainly relating to performance, value judgements or stone-cold belief, was last used in 1983 when a struggling Coe managed to usurp Peter Elliott, who initially won 1500m Olympic trial, only to have his place given to the Olympic champion Coe.

In the end, it was a decision that paid off for Great Britain and for Coe; but it impacted on Elliott who, while having a place for the 800m, had to go through an unfamiliar routine of two qualifying races prior to the final. In the end, he succumbed to injury and was unable to run for gold.

Chambers’ selection was begrudging. The statement released by the selection committee is far from complimentary:

“Taking him to the World Indoors deprives young, upwardly mobile committed athletes of this key development opportunity.

“Our World Class Performance Programme is focused on achievement at Olympic and World level. On this basis, it is extremely frustrating to leave young athletes at home; eligible for Beijing, in possession of the qualifying standard and committed to ongoing participation in a drug-free sport.

In contrast, we have to take an individual whose sudden return, especially when considered against his previous actions and comments, suggests that he may be using the whole process for his own ends.

“Unfortunately, the committee felt that the selection criteria pertaining to the winner of the trials, coupled with the manner of Dwain’s performance, left them no room to take any other decision.

“We wish all the selected athletes well at the event, but will certainly explore ways in which future selections can be made to match the true ‘spirit’ of our sport.”

I don’t think Chambers will need any more inspiration after reading that. Chambers beat the rest of the field, and therefore he has the right to go — former drugs cheat or not. No other athlete was good enough, and that’s the end of the matter. He has carried out his sentence, has realised that he was a product of corruption and not a cause, and can do nothing else except, in his words, “let the legs do the talking.”

And I think that’s another reason for the animosity to Chambers. He has just walked back into the sport after flirting with American Football, and beat the rest of the field who train day in, day out.

He exposed the rest of the athletes as not being good enough, and not matching his ability minus chemical assistance. In essence, he showed up the other athletes royally, and they (UK Athletics, Steve Cram et.al) do not like it. Indeed, it was refreshing to hear 2nd place Simeon Williamson supporting Chambers.

Chambers obviously is good enough, and it’s time he proved it without science’s help.


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Filed under Athletics, Comment, Dwain Chambers, IAAF, News, Seb Coe, Sport

Pistorius decision is wrong

The decision to ban 400m paralympian Oscar Pistorius – or “Blade Runner”, from running in the Beijing Olympics (were he to run the required qualifying time of 45.55sec – the ‘A’ standard that South Africa will probably abide by) is an indictment on the IAAF and world athletics.

In an age where drugs still damn the sport, particularly with the recent revelations of Marion Jones, the IAAF have missed an opportunity to not only close the gap further between able-bodied and disabled athletes, but to restore interest, pride and above all, the central element of what makes athletics so memorable: the breaking down of mental and physical barriers.

Of course, Professor Peter Bruggemann believes that Pistorius could attain an advantage over able-bodied athletes with his use of prosthetic limbs, meaning the breaking down of these so-called barriers could be easier. However, with a personal best of 46.34 – good enough to win gold at the 1932 Olympics, Pistorius isn’t going to do that just yet.

I’ll never understand how someone with no lower limbs could attain an advantage. I’ll also never understand how the IAAF are taking the findings of one group of scientists as fact, rather than seeking opinions from a variety of scientists.

Pistorius’ ‘legs’ are believed to take up to 30 meters to become effective, and as anyone who has ever watched a modicum of athletics before, it is the start that wins or loses races at smaller distances.

I cannot believe that Pistorius’ ‘cheetahs’, an ironic name in this instance, can match technique, hard-work and the capacity of the human body. I also cannot believe that the acceptance of Pistorius will lead to a sort of carte blanche, where much improved artificial limbs arrive and usurp able-bodied athletes; or worse (and this has been mooted), where athletes have amputations in favour of enhanced characteristics.

It seems deeply offensive to Pistorius to even raise those issues on the back of his emergence. This is not someone who had his limbs amputated out of choice; this is someone who wants to be recognised as an able-bodied athlete, and on the same playing field – or in this instance, on the same running track.

The thought of anyone committing ‘techno-doping’ is in the realm of Philip K. Dick, and would never be allowed, nor would it occur. Taking illegal substances is one thing, having an amputation and a subsequent fitting of a new, false limb is quite another.

There is also the argument that sentiment should not have a place within sport. But the Olympics is, and always has been, the most sentimental of sporting events, so why end here? Its very being is sentimental. And in an Olympics that could well be remembered more for pollution, postponed events and China’s human rights record, the story of one man could have helped light up an Olympics that could well be in danger of major embarrassment.

You also have to question whether the IOC would agree with having an athlete with false limbs competing with perceived specimens of athletic brilliance. It seems absurd when in past years you’ve had wild-card entrants, whilst adding to the Olympic spirit, have prevented more competent athletes from competing.

And yes, Pistorius’ participation in the Olympics could have an effect on the Paralympics which is getting successively bigger and more successful. But what more does he have to achieve at that level? Could there be a point where his dominance in the Paralympics could have a negative effect? Or will he become the Games’ primary selling point? Couldn’t that be just as negative? With someone like Pistorius, is Dame Tanni Gray Thompson’s view that the Paralympics is a “parallel games” relevant?

It is such a complete debate, and I could have gone on for thousands of words. But in 1954, Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile – that most recognisable of athletic barriers, which encompassed the mental frailties of breaking something thought impossible, and pushed the human body to its limit.

In 2008, we could have Oscar Pistorius breaking down an additional barrier. He has an appeal pending at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, and we could have had the purest achievement in athletics for many years – and I mean pure in the most literal of meanings.

What do you think? Feel free to comment – we’d love to hear from you.


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Filed under Athletics, Beijing 2008, Comment, IAAF, News, Olympics, Opinion, Oscar Pistorius, Paralympics, South Africa, Sport