These are tough times for Indian athletics. It has to console itself that despite a series of setbacks on the doping front, it managed 11 medals in the just-concluded Asian championships in Kobe.
It does not matter that India took just one gold medal in the Japanese city; so goes the argument. For, we might have won at least two more (in the 400m and 400m hurdles) had A.C. Ashwini been around, instead of being provisionally banned, and one more had the women's 4x400m relay team been in full strength, instead of six woman quarter-milers being in the midst of a raging doping scandal.
The “Olympic dreams” of the relay team have been shattered, according to some observers and headlines. Did the team have a realistic chance of a medal in the London Olympics?
Its best last year was 3:27.77s. India clocked 3:26.89s while qualifying for its only Olympic final in the event in 2004. It finished seventh in the final in Athens in 3:28.51s. In the qualification period in 2008, the team pulled off a surprising 3:28.29s in the Asian Grand Prix in Korat to eventually average 3:30.42s that placed it in the 15th place among 16 qualifiers for the Beijing Games.
In the Games, the Indian quartet finished seventh in the heats with 3:28.83s. In the last Olympics, the bronze went for 3:20.40s; at the last World Championships in Berlin in 2009 for 3:21.64s. That means the girls would be required to cut around one and a half seconds each from their best timings clocked in the last CWG.
Realistically thus, there should never have been talk of India winning a medal in the women's 4x400m relay in the Olympics. Not in the near future at least.
The girls are still talking of making it to the Olympics. They have to come out of any possible suspension first, clock two World-class timings in international meets towards qualification and then only hope to figure in the London Games. They have to do all these before July 2, 2012.
Even if they get suspended for one year, which is likely to be the least that they can get even on a “supplements excuse”, say from the first week of July, there will be no time to get all the processes out of the way, and start clocking qualification timings.
In the meantime, there is no clarity yet about which panel will hear Mandeep Kaur and Jauna Murmu, the two athletes who tested positive in tests done by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has been given a set of conditions by the IAAF if it is to be allowed to handle the proceedings. It has written to the WADA for its opinion. There is also no clarity as to how and when the “supplements,” if they are the cause of “positives,” were given to the girls, and by whom.
Various versions, ranging from supplements bought by athletes outside the NIS, Patiala; ginseng brought by the foreign coach from China; supplements recommended by the coach being bought from Patiala; the coach being unaware of the stuff that the athletes had taken; the coach having given them supplements but without the knowledge that they could have contained banned drugs; and the coach claiming that the stuff he got from China was actually passed by the authorities, have come out during the past week.
If all of them had consumed the same supplements, then there cannot be any explanation for Mandeep and Tiana Mary Thomas testing positive for Stanozolol also apart from Methandienone, the drug that was detected in all the eight urine samples that turned up “positive” including six of the 400m batch.
The report that the Ukrainian coach Yuriy Ogorodonik, has asked for a “re-test” of the girls is surprising. Yuriy (as he is popularly known) should know there is no such thing as a re-test unless the same sample is ordered to be re-tested by a testing authority for some valid reason.