It was one of the worst moments in the history of Indian athletics when the country’s top six women athletes, including Asian Games double gold medalist, Ashwini Akkunji, tested positive for the banned substance — steroid methanedienone — in May-June this year.
It was no surprise that when the National Anti-Doping Agency’s (NADA) disciplinary committee handed the six — Mandeep Kaur, Sini Jose, Tiana Mary Thomas, Jauna Murmu, Priyanka Panwar and Ashwini — a one-year ban, all of them decided to give the hearing a miss. Long jumper Harikrishna Muralidharan received a two-year ban for testing positive for a banned steroid.
The athletes were guilty of doping violations under clause 2.1 of the anti-doping rule. The players were represented by a lawyer, who felt the verdict was a little harsh on the players.
Though the ban is less than the two years recommended by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for steroid offence, the athletes’ chances of qualifying for the London Olympics in July appear bleak as most of the players' ban will be lifted around May-June, just a month ahead of the 2012 Games.
However, it can get worse if the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) or WADA appeal against the ban within 14 days of the hearing. Due to Christmas holidays, the IAAF office is closed till the first week of January. Even if they get to compete in the qualifiers, the players have missed out on training in the last few months.
In the last six months, Ashwini, the 400m hurdles Asian Games gold medallist, spent more time collecting evidence to clear her name than practicing. She tested positive in June and was provisionally suspended on July 4.
Similar is the case with the other dope offenders —Mandeep, Sini, Juana, Priyanka and Tiana. Mandeep and Juana were tested in the last week of May.
Even coaches believe the girls have lost time. “It will be difficult to make up for lost ground,” said a quarter-miler coach. For Ashwini — who won gold in Asian Games (56.15s) — training is restricted to basic fitness. B qualification mark for Olympics is 56.65s. “There are no speed drills nor have I started on tough gym workouts,” she said of her daily routine, which also includes two hours in office.
Mandeep, a key member of the 4x400m relay squad, too isn't in top shape. “The incident kept us away from the national camp,” she told HT from Patiala.