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It was the year when Dwain Chambers completed his tortured journey from “suicide bridge” to the brink of redemption. “It was like hanging on to a gust of wind,” is how he described trying to beat Usain Bolt in the 100 metres final at the World Championships. “Then I saw the clock and started laughing.”
There has been little to laugh about in recent times for Chambers, a man whose doping past means he is routinely termed a disgrace, pariah and cheat.
However, he is nearing the end of a remarkable year in which, handicapped by a ban from all leading meetings, he secured a gold medal, shattered a European record and came sixth in the fastest race of all time. Now, after recuperating from an injury effectively caused by Bolt, he says he is “grateful and humble”, and wants more. “I’m in love with my sport again,” he said.
Chambers, 31, has put any thoughts of retirement on hold and is aiming for gold medals at the World Indoor and European Championships next year. Like the Olympics, he is banned from the Commonwealth Games, but there will be no more legal challenges, just an acceptance of his lot and an empathy with other fallen heroes.
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He has watched the media furore surrounding Tiger Woods’s domestic issues with interest. While not equating their problems, he knows what it is like when the tide turns and opprobrium ensues.
“We are all human beings and what defines us as humans is how we pick ourselves up from our mistakes,” he said. “It’s a personal affair that should be dealt with behind closed doors because it involves his family. He’s made a mistake and I hope he can resolve it.”
Meanwhile, Marion Jones is trying to come back from a jail term for lying to investigators over her drug use. The woman whose “drive for five” at the Sydney Olympics was, literally, fuel-injected, wants a basketball career in the Women’s NBA, mirroring Chambers’s ill-fated attempt to gain a rugby league contract with Castleford Tigers last year. “If the basketball federation think she’s been honest enough and are prepared to give her a second chance then all I can do is wish her the best of luck,” he said.
“I hope she can re-establish herself. And I hope she sends out the message that the road we both went down was never the right one.”
Victor Conte, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative founder and president, who provided drugs for both, said he opened Chambers’s eyes when he first met him. “He came to me and was like, ‘So this is what Marion Jones does?’” Having revealed this year that he once contemplated suicide when he drove beneath an infamous bridge in Archway, North London, it is understandable that Chambers would back an outsider.
His journey towards acceptance has been tough, comprising a failed High Court attempt to get his Olympic ban overturned, being picked for Great Britain while knowing the selection panel was unanimously opposed to him, and having Lord Coe, Britain’s most influential athletics icon, say he would hold his nose when watching him run.
“I’ve learnt that in life, success and failure come hand in hand, so treat those impostors the same,” he said. “I don’t get as mad as I used to. I’m having to re-educate myself in the sport, but it’s more fun than it’s ever been. I feel a lot, lot happier now. I can walk into an environment with my team-mates and people are not pointing the finger.
“There is not that animosity now. Most people have chosen to let it go. I’ve had a lot of support from Charles van Commenee [the head coach of UK Athletics] and the team. They’re people I hold in high regard and they are not throwing punches.”
Chambers has had a good year. He broke the European record on the way to the indoor 60 metres title in Turin in March. He missed out on the sub-10sec run he craved but reached the final of the 100 metres at the World Championships. However, Euromeetings, an umbrella body of promoters, has maintained its stance against booking those convicted of serious drug offences, and the inaugural Diamond League is also off limits.
“There’s no point crying over spilt milk,” Chambers said. “There’s no point chasing wild dreams and I’m just focusing on myself and encouraging others.”
The others include the younger members of the Britain team as well as those at his academy, which is designed to find future Olympic stars. “More youngsters in the GB team are looking up to me, seeing my struggle and wondering how I did it,” he said. “I want to drum it into their heads that drugs aren’t an option and will only hurt them and their sport.”
The sport is on a high thanks to Bolt. Chambers trained with the triple world and Olympic champion in 2006 in Jamaica and admitted: “I knew he was going to be special but never in my life expected him to be this good [at the 100 metres]. He always talked about running the 100 but Mr [Glen] Mills, his coach, wouldn’t let him. He’s just shown what was brewing inside his system.”
It was the sight of Bolt disappearing in 9.58sec in the World Championships in Berlin that led to Chambers’s injury. “I tore my left calf in the last 40 metres of the final,” he said. “I was in the fastest race in history, clinging to his coat-tails, and that was the result on my body. I remember seeing him at 60 metres, thinking, ‘He’s gone’, and, in that moment, my concentration went. I tied up because I tried to run his race.”
After three months out, his calf has healed and he has started training again. Still condemned to running in low-profile races until the major championships, he says it has taken time to digest a dramatic year and get himself mentally right.
The tattoo on his back says “Deal Wid Da Matta” and references past problems, but the man, himself, is looking ahead. “The past is the past,” he said, “but the future’s bright.”
Back in the fast lane
6 Dwain Chambers’s place in 100 metres final at World Championships in August.
12 Men who ran faster than him this year.
0 Europeans who ran faster this year.
6.42 Seconds it took to become third-fastest 60 metres runner in history in March.
1,500 Pounds made in six months in 2008. Now he says: “I get different rewards — by getting the trust of the public and putting something back into the sport.”
49 Months since his drugs ban ended.
4 British sprinters to have dipped under 10sec — Chambers, Linford Christie, Jason Gardener and Mark Lewis-Francis.