On Monday, Ashwini Akkunji, India's golden girl, joined the list of dope offenders, taking the number of positive cases to eight. Ashwini, 23, who made history by winning India's maiden gold in women's 400m hurdles at the Guangzhou Asian Games, failed an out of competition test, and was subsequently dropped from the Japan-bound squad for the Asian Athletics Championships, which begin in Kobe from Thursday.
The news of Ashwini testing positive comes at a time when the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) is struggling to salvage its image. There was further embarrassment in store when Priyanka Pawar, a prominent 400m runner, and a member of the Japan-bound relay squad, also failed the test. She too has been dropped from the team. "Both athletes have been provisionally suspended," said AFI director ML Dogra.
In fact, Mandeep Kaur, Jauna Murmu, Sini Jose and the others had also tested positive for methandienone.
The urine samples, 30 in number, were collected by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) on June 27 at Patiala, where the athletes were training.The news of Ashwini and Priyanka returning positive came a few hours before the 37-member squad was to leave for Japan. With Ashwini and Priyanka's exit from the squad, India prospects in the 4x400m relay look bleak. The country had won gold in the previous edition at Guangzhou in 2009.
Ashwini's meteoric rise is intriguing. More so, in the run-up to the Delhi Commonwealth Games and Guangzhou Asian Games. In August last, she had clocked a mediocre 60.24 seconds in 400m hurdles, but within a span of four months she blossomed into a world-class athlete and went on to win at the Asian Games gold. In fact, she was instrumental in the quartet claiming gold in the 4x400m relay in both the Delhi Commonwealth Games and Guangzhou Asian Games.
Confronted with the question of performance-enhancing drugs in Indian athletics, during a national camp in Patiala a few months ago, the lanky runner had rubbished all claims. "It's all hearsay, I don't believe in them," she had told HT then.
But two days before she tested positive, Ashwini wasn't confident of winning a medal in Japan. "I am not competing in hurdles, but might take part in the relay," was all she said when asked about her preparations for the continental event.
On the eve of the departure to Japan, the mood in the Indian camp was sombre with performance-enhancing drugs being the sole talking point. A national coach wondered, "Why are so many athletes failing dope tests all of a sudden?"
Perhaps, the AFI could try answering the question.