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26 Nov 2015

SOPHIE FLYNN OF THE BRITISH ATHLETICS SUPPORTERS’ CLUB SAYS HER ENTHUSIASM FOR THE SPORT HAS NOT BEEN DINTED BY DRUGS CONTROVERSIES

When I was younger I dreamed of being a 100m sprinter. Linford Christie was my idol and he’d been flying the flag for Great Britain in the 100m since I was born in 1987. PE lessons were exciting and, trust me, there is no lineup in the world scarier than a bunch of seven-year-olds on a Monday morning.

I was quick and extremely competitive, but as I got older physiological factors took their toll and I wasn’t quite fast enough to take that next step.

I remember taking to the track in the London Borough of Sutton district sports as the fastest kid in my school. Of course I was completely shellshocked to witness half of the field engulf me over the last 50m, crossing the finish line in a distraught second-to-last place.

At the time it reinforced in me how hard it was to become a successful sprinter. But to this day it was sprinting (as it is for many children in the UK) that drew me to athletics.

As a spectator over the past 20 years I’ve witnessed some truly world-class performances in the 100m. Legends like Usain Bolt, Maurice Greene, Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Carmelita Jetter, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Kim Collins have all graced the track with memorable performances.

There have also been some fantastic moments for British athletes. One of the highlights has to be the 4x100m gold medal in Athens in 2004, which saw Mark Lewis-Francis hold off Greene in a crucial dip finish. But among the success there has been controversy, notably from the likes of Tyson Gay, Dwain Chambers, Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin, who were all banned for taking performance-enhancing substances. Even Florence Griffith-Joyner’s world records still provoke suspicion.

Yet, it’s hard to imagine why an athlete would risk losing the respect of billions of people across the globe by taking a banned substance. The reason is unclear, but maybe it’s because the power of winning the 100m is a life changer that transcends the world of athletics.

It’s sad that it takes a doping scandal to put athletics on the back pages of the sports tabloids. But the papers are correct in their assessment of the IAAF, who face one of the toughest challenges in their history in trying to clean up the sport. I remember how distraught I felt to digest the news that one of my idols, Marion Jones, was banned for taking performance-enhancing drugs. Her past achievements had been engulfed by this huge grey cloud which would never evaporate, More than anything I felt disappointed.

British athletics currently has so many bright youngsters coming through the sprint ranks, such as Dina Asher-Smith, Asha Philip, Chijindu Ujah, James Dasaolu and Adam Gemili, and each athlete has bags of talent. The British supporters will be cheering them on over the next five to ten years and something tells me I will not be disappointed. I just hope that our athletes will not lose out to those bending the rules in their favour.

A lot of people believe Flo Jo’s world record will never be beaten, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if her record  could be eclipsed by a certified clean athlete? If the IAAF can steer athletes away from the career-wrecking mindset that encourages cheating that would surely be the greatest gift of all.

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