The menace of doping has reared its ugly head in India again. This time it's just not an episode, but a series of events that's stunned everyone. In the span of two days, five top athletes have tested positive. What is alarming is that all the athletes have traces of the same substance — metandienone, a steroid.
Though it has surprised a few, for those associated with Indian athletics, it was something that was waiting to happen. Last year, when Indian athletes reaped a rich haul at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, former international sprinter R Gnansekaran wasn't impressed. "Wait and watch," he had remarked.
Soon after the Asian Games, officials running athletics in the country had played down the news of sprinter Suresh Sathya testing positive, a member of the men's 4x100m relay team that won bronze in the Delhi Games. What's worse, he tested positive in India, before the team left for Guangzhou. Unknowingly, he participated in the Games, but fortunately, he finished out of the medal bracket and was not tested.
What's interesting is that Sathya, who had a few pedestrian performances four months before the Delhi Games in October, suddenly turned into a champion runner after a four-week visit to Ukraine, where most Indian athletes train before any major meet.
This again prompted experts to question Ukraine's credibility as a world-class training center. When the government was spending so much on the CWG, what prompted the Athletics Federation of India to train in Ukraine? Not just training there, but also when it comes to foreign coaches, the AFI opts for coaches from the eastern block (erstwhile Soviet Union).
The AFI has its reasons. Experts from Ukraine and Russia come cheap. There are over a dozen of them who are overseeing national camps despite many questioning their ability.
Some believe they are good at masking. Athletes, prior to major competitions, go to Ukraine boost their performance, give results in an odd meet and then lie low through the year to avoid being caught. Take the example of star sprinter Abdul Najeeb Qureshi. He excelled in the Commonwealth Games last year, clocking 10.30s in the men's 100m first round to reach semis where he timed 10.40s. But he failed to reach the final of a domestic meet at Bangalore held in June. His preliminary round time was 11.12s.
What are the athletes taking these days?
Insiders say, water-based testosterone, an anabolic steroid, is common. The physiological effects are huge in terms of growth of muscle mass and increase in strength. It's generally consumed two/three months before a major competition, and the wash out time is 30 days. Hence, athletes stop taking it a month before an event. However, the initial 15-20 days of the wash out period are risky. If tested during this period, a positive result is possible. This is why athletes avoid dope-testing officials during this period.