Every so often, synchronised waves of happiness lasting a little under 10 seconds roll over Jamaica. And the island’s hardships and tribulations, the grind and the gun, seem to soften and gently sigh. That is the spell Jamaica’s most popular sport, athletics, can cast.
Now, though, the spell risks being broken. When one of the country’s most popular athletes, the reigning world 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, was suspended last month after failing a drug test for a banned diuretic it was like a bolo punch to the nation’s stomach. But to have five athletes — including Asafa Powell, the former 100m world record-holder — test positive is the equivalent of being repeatedly hit over the head.
As Andre Lowe, the Jamaica Gleaner writer who broke the story, said: “Jamaica is in shock. There is a great sense of disbelief. Athletics has become the nation’s sport in the past 10 years. Now people are grappling for an explanation and answers.”
They are not the only ones. Whenever there is a positive drugs test it can be looked at two ways: that it shows that the system is working and the cheats are being exposed, or that the authorities are merely catching a handful of fish in a vast ocean.
In Powell’s case — and that of Sherone Simpson, his training partner at the MVP (Maximising Velocity and Power) track club — there may be a third explanation: that they have unwittingly taken an illegal substance in a supplement they thought was clean.
There are suggestions that they were provided with supplements by the Canadian trainer Chris Xuereb which they believed were “organic” and therefore OK.
Raid on Xuereb’s room
A spokeswoman for Powell said that the athlete’s camp had arranged a search warrant with police to raid Xuereb’s room and contacted the World Anti-Doping Agency to ensure that any supplements taken away for testing would be done so without contamination.
Even so, the fact that it is Powell — a god-fearing son of a clergyman who has been vehemently opposed to drugs in the past — who is in the spotlight is a shock to most Jamaicans.
“He calls himself ‘Jamaica’s golden baby’ and it’s quite accurate,” says Lowe. “Even though Usain Bolt is certainly the bigger star internationally, back home there is a sentiment and attachment to Asafa.
“Many people believe that he is the person who took Jamaica to the next level and started the dominance.”
Meanwhile, the positive tests are adding up. On Monday the Olympic discus thrower Allison Randall became the third athlete to confirm a positive drugs test from the Jamaican trials in June. Two more names will follow in the coming days. The question is, how deeply does the country want to stir the pot and throw out what it finds?
The Jamaican athletics association president, Dr Warren Blake, insists the country is as strong-willed on tackling doping as any other.
There is a danger of generalisation when we talk of Jamaica. We have to remember that positive tests have come from different camps and athletes in different countries. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013