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Francis Obikwelu willing to forgive and forget

18 February 2008

By Richard Lewis

The Portuguese athlete robbed of gold in 2002 says that the disgraced Briton did not commit a ‘crime’ and is welcome to train with him in Spain

If athletics is going through difficult times, it was not noticeable at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham yesterday. Almost 8,000 people watched the biggest international meet of the domestic season, the Norwich Union Grand Prix, and publicly there was no mention of a particular sprinter. Dwain Chambers was airbrushed out the meeting; he was not invited by the organisers and when the public address announcer welcomed the 60m field, his name was the natural absentee among the quality of Britain’s indoor sprinters.

It was not quite the same story in the bowels of the arena where Chambers found an unlikely ally in a man whom he cheated out of being hailed as a European champion. Almost six years ago, Portugal’s Francis Obikwelu finished second as Chambers sprinted to the 100m title in Munich. Twelve months later, the London sprinter tested positive for the anabolic steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), sparking a ban and an admission that he had been using the drug during the year of his triumph.

Chambers was stripped of his title, with Obikwelu promoted to gold and, incredibly, he could find a repeat scenario when the saga of Justin Gatlin ends. Obikwelu was second behind Gatlin at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, but is now seen as the champion after the American’s own drugs shame. Yet, as Chambers seeks a way of finding races and training partners in the build-up to the world indoor championships, Obikwelu would have no trouble with him joining him at his training camp in Madrid.

“When somebody does something wrong, we should forgive and we should forget about it,” said Obikwelu. “He did not kill anybody, so it is not a crime and it is not like he has served a long jail sentence. I always said that I won silver in Munich, I never considered that I won gold, but I did not feel bitterness. I am friendly with Dwain, he is a nice boy. For sure I am happy for him to come to train with us.”

Who will join Chambers in Britain’s 60m team at the world indoor championships Valencia next month remains undecided, with the position becoming even more complicated yesterday after Simeon Williamson ran a personal best of 6.57 to finish second behind Norway’s Jaysuma Saidy Ndure who won in 6.56. Williamson’s time matches the fastest which Craig Pickering, his rival for the 60m, has run this winter, with the Bath sprinter absent yesterday because of illness. “I will be disappointed if I do not make my first senior team,” said Williamson. The selectors complete their team a week today, with Pickering running in Paris on Friday.

Kelly Sotherton and Carolina Kluft will meet in the pentathlon in Valencia and yesterday there was just 18 points to separate them over three events. After Sweden’s Kluft, the Olympic heptathlon champion, won the long jump with 6.46m compared to the Briton’s 6.27m, Sotherton triumphed in the 60m hurdles with a personal best of 8.17sec. Kluft was third in 8.25sec, before Sotherton took the 400m with the best time by a Briton this winter, 52.47sec. Kluft was close enough in second, in 52.98sec, to secure victory in the competition with 3,072 points.

Kenenisa Bekele produced a world-record performance to shave 0.34sec from Haile Gebrselassie’s mark when clocking 8min 4.35sec. Bekele produced a sizzling final 200m lap to achieve his target.

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