LONDON (Reuters) - Jamaica, sunlit home of the world’s finest sprinters, was cast into shadow on Tuesday after confirmation that the Caribbean island’s most successful female sprinter has failed a drugs test.
Twice Olympic 200 metres champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, the first Jamaican to win a global 100 metres title, was provisionally suspended by the national federation after a positive test for a possible masking agent.
The news followed Jamaican 400 metres runner Dominique Blake’s six-year ban last week for a second doping offence and world 4x100 m relay gold medallist Steve Mullings losing his appeal in March against a lifetime ban from athletics.
Officials said a dozen Jamaican athletes had received sanctions ranging from three months to life for doping violation in the past five years.
Campbell-Brown was at the forefront of Jamaica’s transformation into a sprinting powerhouse when in 2004 she became the first woman from the Caribbean to win an Olympic gold medal with her victory over 200 metres at Athens.
Four years later, she became only the second woman to retain the title after East Germany’s Barbel Woeckel (1976 and 1980) when finishing first in Beijing.
Suspicion over the island’s sprint dominance has grown since the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Jamaica won five golds and Usain Bolt stole the show with his dazzling world records in the 100 and 200 metres.
Jamaicans have won 18 Olympic and world championship gold medals since 2008 over 100, 200 and 4x100 metres relay out of a possible 24.
“There is a perception that perhaps the Jamaicans are too good to be true, especially after their domination of both men’s and women’s sprinting,” former World Anti-Doping Agency(WADA) chief Dick Pound told Reuters via email.
“A positive test on the part of any star athlete will tend to reinforce that perception,” he said, adding the recent positives “undoubtedly” called into question Jamaica’s anti-doping programme.
”If there is a problem, it should be identified by more positives and it may be that the Jamaican testers are doing a more thorough job.
“I do not know if the IAAF has increased its own testing of them,” he added referring to the sport’s world governing body.
Pound, the WADA president from 1999 to 2007, felt performances from other Jamaican sprinters could now attract more scrutiny.
“I do not think anyone will proceed automatically from suspicion to declaration of guilt in the absence of evidence against any particular athlete, but it will sharpen the focus on their accomplishments and probably lead to far more testing of them,” he said.
Six-times Olympic champion Bolt has never failed a drugs test and has vehemently spoken out in defence of his country’s outstanding performances.
“We work hard, we get injuries, we have to take ice baths, we lay on the track, so I see the work we put in to be the best that we are,” Bolt said during last year’s London Olympics at which he won the 100, 200 and relay gold medals.
“When people doubt us it’s really hard, but we’re trying our best to show the world that we are running clean.”
Bolt’s coach Glen Mills has called on the Jamaican government to set up an accredited anti-doping laboratory to protect its world-class athletes from taking contaminated substances.
Mills, who mentors Bolt and world 100 metres champion Yohan Blake, said Jamaican athletes faced a minefield of substances and had little way of checking their validity.
“It’s definitely a time for (the) nation to step forward and provide with a service that athletes can use to ensure the purity of substances that they have to use for treatment or whatever,” he said in an interview with RJR 94FM radio in Jamaica.
“It’s a minefield out there. Any substance that you take up could be contaminated.”
Samples from doping tests in Jamaica are currently processed in other countries, including the World Anti-Doping Agency accredited laboratory in Montreal.
Blake was one of five Jamaican athletes to test positive for methylxanthine in 2009.
He was cleared by a disciplinary panel because at the time the stimulant was not on the WADA banned list but was later given a three-month ban by the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission on the basis it was similar to another banned substance.
Twice Olympic 100 metres champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was given a six-month ban in 2010 after a positive test for Oxycodone, a synthetic opiate which she admitted taking to alleviate toothache.
Victor Conte, convicted owner of the now-defunct BALCO laboratory that was at the centre of a global doping scandal, has, for several years, publicly queried the improvement of some Jamaican athletes’ performances.
“I believe that there needs to be a WADA investigation of not only the elite Jamaican sprinters, but also the Jamaican Olympic track and field officials as well as the Jamaican anti-doping federation,” he told Reuters in an email.
“It’s possible that retesting some of the urine samples saved from these elite Jamaican track athletes over the last five years could shed some light on this extraordinary situation.”
Canadian Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee, conceded athletics had a poor image when it came to doping and called for smarter, intelligence-based testing.
“There is already no doubt that the sport has serious doping problems generally, so that perception will not be improved,” he said.
Editing by John Mehaffey