Woman quartermilers Mandeep Kaur and Jauna Murmu have been provisionally suspended for testing positive for banned substances.
Their ‘B' sample tests confirmed the ‘A' sample findings for steroids on Wednesday. Mandeep tested positive for stanozolol and epimethandiol while Murmu returned ‘positive' for epimethandiol.
They were tested in the last week of May, out of competition, by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) at the Patiala camp.
This is the biggest ‘catch' yet by an international agency in out-of-competition testing among Indian athletes.
The 23-year-old Mandeep (PB 51.74s), from Punjab, had been a member of the Indian team since 2005 while the 20-year-old Murmu (PB 52.78s), an Orissa athlete who was fourth in the 400m hurdles in the last Asian Games, had been representing India since 2008.
It is learnt both the athletes have, in their preliminary explanations, stated that they had not taken anything that could have led to these ‘positive' tests and they had only consumed supplements being provided at the National camp.
Both were members of the Indian team, yet to be announced, for the 19th Asian athletics championships to be held in Kobe, Japan, from July 7. Now, they are barred from participating in any competition or any camp.
Their hearing will be handled by the Athletics Federation of India's Medical and Anti-Doping Committee headed by Dr. Arun Mendiratta. The AFI will have to hear the athletes within three months of the athletes' request to hold a hearing.
The IAAF rules stipulate all hearings in all doping cases would be handled by National federation-appointed or authorized tribunals. They could also be heard by any other agency to which the federation might have delegated authority.
The news about the two leading 400m runners testing positive has caused anguish in the athletics circles though no one has been taken by surprise by the development. Not many were willing to go on record, but one person who did was Dr. P.S.M. Chandran, President of the Indian Federation of Sports Medicine.
“It has been happening for long, but it has been exposed now only” said Dr. Chandran on Wednesday about the doping phenomenon in Indian athletics. “The authorities could have stopped this practice had they chosen to do it earlier. Instead they ignored it,” he added.
Dr. Chandran said that coaches, especially foreign coaches, hired at considerable expenditure by the Government, should be held responsible for the doping incidents.
He said, while being in the Sports Authority of India (SAI), he had fought against the system that had encouraged unqualified support staff, brought from abroad, to prescribe medicines to athletes against the laws of the country, but in vain.
Dr. Chandran said the opportunity provided by the Mandeep-Murmu episode should be utilised to clean up the system.
Many have argued during the past decade and more that the advent of coaches and so-called ‘recovery experts' from the former Soviet states had led to a sorry pass in which the athletes were not only encouraged to use drugs but shielded from testers and assisted if confronted with a doping charge.
The regular trips to Ukraine were cited often as the ideal build-up towards a major championship, and a must for claiming medals, which everyone including the Union Sports Ministry wanted. But no one has asked to date what places like Yalta could hold for Indian athletes.
Even this year, a large group of athletes were getting ready to go for an extended stint in Yalta — over two months — but somehow the programme got delayed and now that trip is expected to materialise only after the Asian championships.
The positive tests of the two woman 400m runners have surely tainted the medals won in the recent past including the relay gold medals in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Mandeep ran the finals in both while Murmu was in the team in the preliminary round of CWG.