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