I FOUND myself starting to question some of the Panorama evidence, writes Brian Whittle
I found myself sliding into a real deep sadness as once again the sport that I love was dragged through the mire by Panorama’s expose on alleged drug cheating pervading track and field athletics.
It is even worse this time for me as I personally know one of the accused, Allan Wells. I was coming into the British Team at the end of Allan’s career but we still see each other on the golf course at charity events. His gold-winning performance at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 is one of the real defining moments for me growing up. My friend and I were running home to watch the final, realised we wouldn’t get there in time and actually watched it in a chip shop we found with a television! As a 16-year-old already involved in athletics it was inspirational. I was very lucky that some of my childhood heroes became friends – Coe, Ovett, Cram, Black, Akabusi and Thompson to name but a few. Allan is also in this category.
However, as I watched the programme by Mark Daly I found myself starting to question some of the evidence he was presenting. Now, just to be clear, I am in no way defending or otherwise any of the protagonists the programme names. How can I? The only person I can 100 per cent assure you was clean is me. It is the same for every sportsperson.
I am also not saying that everything that Mr Daly had to say was fabricated or inaccurate. Again I can’t do that without seeing the evidence for myself and doing my own research. However, I was becoming more than a little uneasy as some of the evidence was presented and began to question the methodology and anecdotal evidence.
Firstly, Drew McMaster in my view is an unreliable source and I think we should take his evidence with a hefty pinch of salt. I don’t know Drew personally but he is a confessed drugs cheat who has a real dislike for Allan Wells. Furthermore he has previous. He alleged that former director of coaching Frank Dick acquiesced in the use of illegal drug taking, only for the paper involved to lose a libel case when Mr Dick sued for printing the allegation. McMaster was at the time trying to smear Allan Wells and Cameron Sharp. That was 20 years ago. I was surprised that Mr Daly did not mention this important piece of information during the programme. Drew McMaster was the only named witness in the allegations against Wells.
Secondly, although I am no expert in this field, I was surprised when Allan was accused of taking steroids up to two weeks prior to his gold medal winning Olympic run. He would have been tested at the Olympics as a matter of course having won a medal. I am sure that steroids remain in your system far longer than two weeks. Ben Johnson was caught with a similar substance in his system and he apparently had been off them far longer.
Thirdly, Mr Daly’s testing of banned substances I thought was flawed and unreliable, specifically his documented improvements while taking micro injections of mail order EPO. His assertion that before beginning his drug regime he was the ‘fittest he had ever been’ means what to me? That is very subjective and I would suggest that his ability as a participant to improve compared to a world-class athlete who is looking for fractions of improvement is much greater. A friend of mine who is an ultra-distance competitor has just improved his 10km time by 11 minutes in a month! He was very fit to start with but hadn’t been training hard for a couple of months. From 60 minutes to 49 minutes in a month – an 18 per cent improvement. It is just too subjective to deliver as an accurate example of the effects of illegal drug use.
I cannot say whether or not the allegations are true and I would suggest after 35 years we will never know.
However, I would suggest that the Panorama programme was not thorough enough in its investigation and left too many loose ends.
I want to say that athletics is the most tested sport in the world and the vast majority of tests are clean. There will always be those prepared to cheat in every walk of life (see politics or journalists engaging in phone hacking for example) and sport is no different.
We must continue to fight against those who drag our sport into disrepute and most importantly I firmly state that it is entirely possible to reach the very top in sport without resorting to doping. Years of hard work and dedication, a good diet and a great coach can put you on the top of the podium.
l Brian Whittle won gold in the 4 x 400 metres relay at both the 1986 and 1994 European Championships.