T&T sprinters keep cool as drug rumours raise prospect of Beijing 4×100 gold

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s 2010 Olympic Games 4×100 metre team (from left) Marc Burns, Keston Bledman, Emmanuel Callender and Richard Thompson.

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Trinidad and Tobago track star Richard “Torpedo” Thompson insisted that his thoughts are only on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, even as speculation about a failed drug test by a Jamaican athlete and its possible repercussions have captivated athletics.

Two weeks ago, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) revealed that 31 athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics tested positive for banned substances after 454 urine samples were re-examined using more advanced technology than was available eight years ago.

The IOC has not released any names while it corroborates the positive tests by reanalysing the ‘B’ sample. That process should be completed within the coming week.

However, the Jamaica Gleaner yesterday claimed that an “experienced Jamaican runner” is among the alleged cheats and at least one medal won in Beijing is at stake.

Jamaica’s sprint sensation, Usain Bolt, is not under suspicion. But the whispers about one of Bolt’s less illustrious teammates—although completely without foundation at present—have been loud enough to catch the attention of their Trinidad and Tobago rivals.

The IOC confirmed last Friday that 23 athletes from the London 2012 Olympics also failed drugs tests after defrosted urine and blood samples from 265 athletes were reanalysed.

Since three members of Jamaica’s victorious 4×100 Beijing team also copped relay gold in London and Trinidad and Tobago finished second in both events, there is the possibility that a tainted result in one Olympic Games may lead to a similar finding in the other.

And despair in the “Land of Reggae” could potentially be rivalled by cheers in the “Land of Steelpan.”

Thompson and Marc Burns—who teamed up with Emmanuel Calendar and Keston Bledman in London while Aaron Armstrong completed the gang in Beijing—admitted that they have heard the rumours. But both men vowed not to be seduced by golden thoughts until there was official word from the IOC.

“Nothing’s official as yet,” Thompson told Wired868, “they haven’t even said the event yet. So it’s all speculation at the moment.

“The athlete’s name is just rumoured and, even if it is him, they still have to test the ‘B’. I think it would be a bad look if it wasn’t who everyone said and I made any bold statements on it.

“I wouldn’t want to tarnish someone’s image on speculation.”

Thompson declined comment on what it might mean for him and his teammates if they were found to be the fastest clean track team in the world at the Beijing Olympics.

At present, Thompson has three Olympic silver medals from the 4×100 metre events in Beijing and London—Trinidad and Tobago initially placed fourth in London but were bumped up after a lane violation by Canada and failed drug test by USA—and the 100 metre dash in Beijing. But, for now, he is only looking forward.

“I’m very focused on Rio at the moment,” said Thompson. “So I’m trying to channel my energy towards that… But I will be following to see how (the Beijing speculation) turns out.

“It’s something that obviously affects the sport, as well as the image of the Caribbean athletes.”

Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis said the IOC updated all its affiliates on the matter today and confirmed that the world governing body will now test samples from all medalists at both the Beijing and London Olympic Games, including 12 T&T athletes.

He declined comment on specific rumours.

Iconic ex-Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Ato Boldon, who has one silver and three bronze Olympic medals along with golden returns at the World Championship and Commonwealth Games, said—with just two months to go before the Rio Olympics—the timing of the drug tests was not ideal. But he countered that it was never a bad time to do the right thing.

“(Failed drug tests by athletes) is not good and the timing is awful,” said Boldon, who also serves as Thompson’s track coach, “but I am somebody who believes that there is no bad time to weed out people who cheat. And my information is that there are more (revelations about disgraced champion athletes) coming, although not necessarily from the Caribbean.

“But at least we will go to Rio knowing who the cheats were.”

Should any Beijing and London Olympic winners be stripped and their medals passed on, Boldon insisted that the new winners have every reason to celebrate for competing clean.

But he admitted that nothing can replace the feeling of crossing the finish line with the world gasping; and then hearing your national anthem played while standing on the Olympic podium.

“Of course (a retroactive award) takes away from the achievement of winning on that special day,” said Boldon. “Whatever medal you get, you are happy for. But what athletes compete for is that time in the spotlight and the chance to hear your anthem (on the podium).”

If Trinidad and Tobago’s 4×100 team benefits from the IOC’s discover of drug cheats, Boldon said he will feel especially proud, since he was there at the beginning.

He was 28 years old when he led the local relay team, which included Burns, Jaycey Harper and Darrel Brown, to silver at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships.

“Should we get gold, I would feel a great sense of satisfaction,” said Bolton. “I felt that before I retired, I wanted to leave the 4×100 team in good shape for the future. And I think I did that.

“So it will be a source of immense satisfaction for me to see that those young boys took it all the way.”

At the Athens 2004 Olympics, Boldon helped Burns, Brown and Nicconnor Alexander to seventh place, as Trinidad and Tobago competed in its first Olympic 4×100 final in this millennium.

Four years later, Thompson, Bledman, Callender and Armstrong joined Burns to sprint across the line for silver at Beijing, behind the Jamaica quartet of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Asafa Powell and Bolt.

There is no word from the IOC that the Jamaica team is in any danger of losing its medals. And it will be another week or two before the world discovers the identity of the Beijing drug cheats.

Boldon, who also coaches TTOC 2015 Junior Sportswoman of the Year Khalifa St Fort, hopes young athletes take note of the perils of drug use; and run clean.

“Just do it the right way,” said Boldon. “It is almost a bigger shame to lose the medal and affect your teammates, your country and yourself. it is not worth it.

“I have several upgraded medals and some that should be upgraded. When your career is done, all you have left is your character and your reputation.

“(Drug use) is not worth it.”

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