Playing the Dwain game

Dwain, fame and the media’s misplaced obsession with Britain’s fastest man

Posted on April 29, 2012 by
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Dwain Chambers (Mark Shearman)

As sporting debates go, they do not get much bigger than the issue of whether to let drug cheats compete on the biggest stage of all. Should athletes who have plied their body with performance-enhancing drugs return to the Olympic stage? It is a huge dilemma.

Given this, the over-turning of the British Olympic Association life ban quite rightly dominates the news agenda. What I can never quite understand, though, is why Dwain Chambers’ name is in almost every headline related to it.

Perhaps it is the modern media’s obsession with the ‘cult of celebrity’. Maybe television, radio and newspapers feel they have to hang the story on a ‘personality’ rather than simply focusing on the wider debate. It confuses me – and it has done for some years – and here’s why…

Chambers will not make an impact in the 100 metres final at the London Olympics. In fact, he’ll do well to even qualify for the final. More than that, he’s far from guaranteed to make the British team.

Last year, the 34-year-old sprinter was ranked No.23 in the world. Ten sprinters, led naturally by Usain Bolt, cracked the 9.90 barrier. This compares to Chambers’ 2011 best of 10.01 and his legal PB of 9.97.

That personal best time, incidentally, was set back in 1999 – the same year he achieved his best position in an outdoor global championships when he was third in the IAAF Championships in Seville behind Maurice Greene (9.80) and Bruny Surin (9.84).

Sprinting has moved on since then; Chambers arguably hasn’t. So to reach the 100m final in London would be a tremendous performance in itself.

Do not just take my word for it. The doyen of British track and field statisticians, Stan Greenberg, emailed me today to point out that Carl Myerscough, a shot putter in the same boat as Chambers, probably has more chance of reaching the London Olympics.

Yet where is all the press attention on Myerscough? Is it because he is a shot putter? Greenberg, incidentally, knows his stuff – he was a GB selector, right-hand man to David Coleman in the BBC athletics commentary box for many years, and is author of the Olympic Almanack – recently re-published for the eighth time.

Myerscough, the UK record-holder, was more than half a metre better than his nearest domestic rival last year and his PB of 21.92m is superior to the Olympic A (20.50m) and B (20.00m) standards. Yet the Blackpool Tower, as he’s known, is rarely more than a footnote in articles that focus heavily on Chambers and cyclist David Millar.

This media obsession with Chambers is no new thing either. It’s bemused me for a few years. In February 2008, I wrote in Athletics Weekly that Chambers’ return was ”more emotive than BAF going bust, more controversial than Linford Christie, more divisive than Christine Ohuruogu”.

UKA, the national governing body, was similarly perplexed in 2009 when athletics writers from Fleet Street chose to go to the Birmingham Games to see Chambers run indoors rather than an Aviva-sponsored televised international match on the same weekend in Glasgow.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticising Chambers. Not on this occasion anyway. Instead I’m questioning our obsession with a man who will, at best, finish 6th or 7th in London.

Keen readers of AW will remember that when Chambers returned from his drugs ban the magazine ran the headline “Chambers of horrors” and I called for fans at the national championships in Sheffield to boo him and for athletes to boycott the race if they were in the same heat.

Since then, though, I am not embarrassed to admit that Chambers has won me over with his gracious attitude and tolerant, ever-smiling personality. He says he’s reformed – and I believe him.

Of course, Chambers is also a fine sprinter. He’s won the world indoor 60m title, broken 10 seconds for 100m outdoors, finished fourth in the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and could yet have a significant role to play in the GB 4x100m fortunes in London.

Indeed, I go back a long way with the Belgrave sprinter. He was breaking through on the junior scene when I began writing for AW in the late Nineties and he was one of the most popular names in the magazine during that period.

I guess, given that, little has changed during the past 15 years. Although Chambers is now making the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Yes, let’s have the lifetime Olympic drug debate. But let’s do it minus the never-ending focus on this one athlete, please.

7 Responses to “Playing the Dwain game”

  1. Steve Skeete says:

    I am a fan of Dwain Chambers. I liked him before the ban, I like him more after it. I did not like the idea of banning someone permanently from the Olympic games. Even murderers in Briton do not get life imprisonment. There is payroll for those who prove that there are no longer a threat to society. Lifetime bans are not just. The life of a sprinter is short as it is. Chambers is thirty four years old and that is almost ancient for a sprinter. To deprive him of what will certainly be his last chance for Olympic glory, and a slim one at best, is worst than his taking performance enhancing drugs. Those athletes who take drugs and are given a ban, should be allowed to participate in all competitions after their ban. It is grossly unfair to punish them twice, and that is exactly what the Olympic ban does. I am happy for Dwainand hope he will make the GB team. Way to go Dwain!

  2. Martin says:

    I think Dwain remains the poster child for this issue because he is still at a world-class level. He won a medal at the world indoor championships this year after all. He may have had just the 23rd best time in the 100m last year, but let’s remember that Jamaica and the US can only send three athletes per country, and that cuts the competition down a lot. And his impact in the relay will be even greater since each county only has one team.

    Carl’s PB may be better than the A and B standard, but he has not thrown over the A standard since 2005 in the shot put. This year his best is just 3cm over the B standard. He ranked 79th in the world in the shot put last year and has no chance of winning a medal with all of the Americans, plus Armstrong, Majewski, Storl etc. who are consistently over 21.50m. He is perhaps more competitive in the discus, but even there he placed just 29th at last year’s world championships. I’m sure Dwain can beat that rank.

  3. Sport Chick says:

    Interesting perspective from you on whether the drug cheats should be allowed to compete at the Olympics. Agree that focusing on one athlete, ie Chambers is… I was going to say 'unfair' but not sure what is fair and unfair in this situation. But in regards to the bit about Dwain, or whoever it is, perhaps only coming in sixth or seventh, the point is, they may be taking another athlete's place who hasn't cheated, it's not so much where they'll come. I say ask the people who were cheated out of medals, or places in the team, what they think. If they can forgive the drug users then maybe so should we. Actually, hold on, even writing that makes my blood boil! On the other hand, David Millar's book about his drug-taking cycling days is hugely thought-provoking. Can you tell I'm confused on the issue! Liked your piece about it, though.

  4. Peter White says:

    The reason why they focus on Chambers is that he cheated, he knew what he was doing and the possible consequences, whilst 99.99% of our athletes don't cheat and have no intention of doing so

    • Paul H says:

      No they don't but we have 10 athletes banned for a variety of drug offences but Chambers gets all the attention becuase he was so high profile.There will be many drug cheats at the Olympics from all around the world including the USA where they have two very high profile athletes in Merritt and Gatlin,will you and our press be calling for them to be highlighted when they turn up?I suspect we may hear the odd comment on the telly but nothing to equate with what Chambers has received .If the rules are wrong ,as I believe they are, then change them, but leave Chambers alone now ,he has paid his price.

      • Peter White says:

        I am quite happy to highlight all drug cheats. I was totally opposed to Yegorova competing many years ago and said so, and I intend to be consistent with any athlete who has cheated. They have denied other athletes their proper medals and monetary awards, and these athletes don't get a second chance to gain them back.

  5. Ian says:

    Selectors always link Dwain and Carl – on the BOGOF (buy one get one free) principle!

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