Indian athletics looked to be in a shambles on Thursday, with news coming in from the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL) that four more athletes including two woman quarter-milers had tested positive for banned substances.
With Sini Jose and Tiana Mary Thomas, both 400m runners and both in the team scheduled to participate in the Asian championships in Kobe, Japan, turning in ‘positive' reports, the Indian 4x400m relay squad is in complete disarray.
The latest calamity to befall Indian athletics has come even as the athletics fraternity is recovering from the stunning disclosure of two other woman 400m runners, Mandeep Kaur and Jauna Murmu, testing positive.
Except for one, the new batch of ‘positives' has come from the National inter-State championships that was held in Bangalore from June 11 to 14.
The tests were conducted by the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA). All were reported for steroids. All have been provisionally suspended.
Apart from Sini and Tiana, the others to be reported for adverse analytical findings from the inter-State meet were Murmu and Haryana woman shot putter Soniya, who finished third in Bangalore.
The fifth athlete to be ‘caught' in an out-of-competition test done by the Army was long jumper Hari Krishnan Muralidharan. He was the leading jumper last season, with a 7.92m.
Murmu had tested positive in an out-of-competition test conducted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), on May 25, and this one, probably done after she finished third (53.81s) in the 400m final on June 12, may not be treated as a separate offence.
Unless the athlete had been notified of the first offence, the violations have to be considered as one. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) is on record that it was notified about the ‘positive' reports of Mandeep and Murmu on June 21.
It would still be interesting to see how the cases would be processed since one of Murmu's cases is going to be handled by the AFI and the other (if it is taken up) by the NADA before the National Anti-Doping Disciplinary panel.
Sini Jose, the 24-year-old Kerala athlete, who had come into prominence as a junior in 2006, was part of the gold-medal-winning relay teams in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Sini, who skipped the 400m final in Bangalore, tested positive for methandienone.
Tiana Mary, also from Kerala, is a relative newcomer at the international level. The 23-year-old, who finished fourth (53.87s) in the 400m in the inter-State, tested positive for stanozolol and methandienone.
Tiana was part of the Indian team at the last Asian Games and competed in the 200 metres, getting eliminated in the heats.
Three of the top six finishers in the women's 400m in the Bangalore meet, who would otherwise have been getting ready to leave for Kobe, are out on doping charges.
The worry for the AFI at this point, with the Asian championships just a week away, need not be confined to the prospects of the relay team in Kobe alone.
It should also be on the extremely difficult task of qualifying for the Olympics next year. The top 16 teams in the world, based on a ranking system in international competitions, will qualify for the London Games.
The façade of greatness and invincibility — at least at the Asian level — associated with the women's 4x400m team has already crumbled. The humiliation will be complete if all the three runners associated with the team last year in its gold-medal winning spree (Mandeep, Mumrmu and Sini) are found guilty.