Michael Jamieson not afraid to confront drug cheats

Drugs testing is a regular part of Michael Jamieson's life, but it is not something that he allows to interrupt his focus. Picture: SNS
Drugs testing is a regular part of Michael Jamieson's life, but it is not something that he allows to interrupt his focus. Picture: SNS
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DAYS away from what has been touted for years as his triumphant homecoming, Michael Jamieson has a lot on his mind. Nothing to distract him from the task in hand – to win gold for Scotland in the pool, beginning on Thursday night. Indeed, if anything the subject that is preoccupying him actually helps him focus even more on his swimming.

Where some athletes prefer not to talk in public about the issue of doping, Jamieson sees it as his duty to speak out. His duty, and his desire as well, because he wants the reputation of his sport to be enhanced as much as possible, and because he knows that every positive test is a blow to that reputation.

Speaking yesterday at Scotland House, the home team’s headquarters in the heart of Glasgow, the 25-year-old Olympic silver medallist said he accepted that some people, for whatever reason, preferred to shy away from the topic. But he insisted that, no matter how controversial the issue might be, he felt obliged to address the issue – while also making it clear that swimming was far from the only sport with a doping problem.

“I think it’s an issue in sport full stop,” said Jamieson, who swims in his strongest event, the 200-metres breaststroke, on Thursday. “Everyone’s entitled to their own view, but I think so many people avoid talking about it and I don’t know why, because it’s an issue that affects all sports.”

And because it affects all sports, Jamieson believes that neither he nor anyone else – whether this week at the Commonwealth Games or elsewhere in other activities – can say with complete confidence that all their opponents are clean. “I don’t think anyone can. In my opinion, if an athlete says yes to that question they’re maybe a little bit naïve about it.

“Maybe naïve is the wrong word, but I feel like I’ve read up on it and I know bits and pieces about it – and I don’t think I can say that with 100 per cent certainty of any event.

“I’m not going to say that’s the case here, but across all sports in any event I don’t think athletes can say with 100 per cent certainty anymore that everyone in their event is clean.”

One case which Jamieson knows well was the disqualification of the Russian 800m runner who finished ahead of his Scottish team-mate Lynsey Sharp at the European Championships two years ago. Sharp was eventually upgraded from silver medal to gold, but Jamieson believes that by then the damage was done: to the good name of athletics and to the hopes of Sharp and the other runners that they were competing on a level track.

“She was affected by it directly. Middle-distance female running seems to be rife with it over the past few years.

“I really felt for her then, because the reason you’re in the sport is to compete and race. That was taken away from her. It’s quite right she was upgraded and unfortunate she was in that position in the first place.

“I don’t know what the count is for Russia [across all sports], but it’s something like 16 swimmers serving bans. That speaks for itself.

“It’s unfortunately part and parcel of sport now and I think I’m one of the few people who tends to try and make the people aware of it. I’m not uncomfortable about speaking about it. I don’t think people should avoid talking about it.

“The Armstrong Lie [a documentary about disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong] was great, to be able to show the public how deep things like that can go.

“It’s something I’m not worried about here. I’m just trying to prepare the best way I can and have a bit of tunnel vision focusing on myself. But across all sports it is an issue.”

While some sportsmen and women have asked themselves why they should bother carrying on with the activity they love when they are obviously up against doping cheats, Jamieson has yet to feel that way about swimming.

Especially because of his extensive personal experience of the testing system, he has faith in the authorities’ good intentions, even if it is obvious that at times the cheats succeed in staying one step ahead of the testers.

“I don’t think swimming is at that level yet, although some other sports may be,” he said when asked if he had thought of giving it up because of the widespread misuse of banned substances.

“It’s not something that’s in my mind constantly. When I leave this room, I won’t go away thinking: ‘I hope everyone in my race is clean.’

“It’s not something that’s at the forefront of my mind: it’s just an underlying aspect that I think not enough athletes are willing to talk about.

“I’m being tested all the time. I have a whereabouts system where I have to let the testers know where I am every single day.

“I’m on there all the time trying to update it, because any slip-ups can result in strikes [against your name]. Sometimes the public see strikes as missed tests because of something a bit sinister.

“That’s something as an athlete you have to deal with as well, because there have been people who have fallen foul of missing tests then they’re banded as cheats which isn’t the case. That’s how thin that line is. I’ll be tested before the race [in Glasgow], I think, and I’ll definitely be tested afterwards.

“I’m tested at the house quite a lot, and it’s usually by the same testers. Last year I had a few of the guys I train with around for food and we were playing Fifa on the Playstation and they came round and I wasn’t ready. So we had the testers sitting down with us while we were playing the Playstation.

“There have been times when I’ve been given the morning off training, not updated my whereabouts, and they’ve come knocking on the door and you have to get up, head down to the door and get through your paperwork. Again, it’s something I’m more than happy to do.”

‘The house’ in question is in Bath, where Jamieson has been based for some time. That distance from Glasgow has been helpful – perhaps even vital – as he has tried to cope with the pressure of being the home favourite of these Games. “I think I’ve dealt with it okay,” he said of his status as Team Scotland’s poster boy.

“It wouldn’t be natural if I didn’t have a little meltdown about it now and then. It’s the result of the support I’ve been getting, which has been amazing.

“So many people are urging you to reach your goals and targets after reading about it, and I think it’s something we do so well in Scotland – we get behind our own and get behind our athletes.

“I’ve prepared the best way I can. I think I’m feeling so relaxed about it now because I know that there’s nothing else I could have done.

“I’ve been in good form these past few months and I’m fit and healthy. If things don’t go well it’s simply because I’m beaten by a better athlete, which obviously would be hard to take and hard to admit, but I’m relaxed because I know I’ve done everything I can.

“Last week I half-expected to have quite a lot of things going on up in Aberdeen [where the Scottish swimmers and divers had a training camp], but I had absolutely nothing, and it was brilliant because I was just so relaxed and chilled out. I was sharing an apartment with Robbie Renwick and the two of us were just kicking back all week.

“All we had to do was train, eat and sleep, so I’m feeling refreshed now coming into the village today. I saw the pool earlier today, and I got butterflies imagining it full later this week. I’m excited to get going.”