Among the fastest athletes in the country, even doping testers can’t reach it

A game of CAT-AND-MOUSE is underway between one of the nation’s top female 400m athletes and doping testers after her sudden improvement in timing caught the attention of a global anti-doping watchdog.

At a recent national track and field meet, the athlete ran several seconds faster than her previous best time, made it to India’s all-time best list and qualified for the championship. world. The performance also landed her on the radar of the Monaco-based Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), an independent body whose aim is to root out cheaters.

But IAU testers were unable to locate the athlete – and she remained incommunicado, The Indian Express has learned.

The athlete was due to fly to Antalya in Turkey in mid-April with other quarter-milers and members of the women’s 4×100 relay team but did not show up before the start.

Assuming she would be in Turkey, IAU authorized doping control officers traveled to Antalya to collect her samples. Anxious to find her, they then traveled to Mumbai and Haryana, where her personal trainer is from, but have so far failed to locate the athlete who is one of the fastest runners from the country.

According to sources, officials and coaches from the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) tried to reach the athlete by phone, but their whereabouts are still unknown. His current personal trainer, who has been punished for doping in the past, told AFI the athlete had not been in contact since early April.

The Indian Express called the athlete’s registered phone number several times on Monday, but found it was “out of network coverage”. Senior AFI officials declined to comment.

“She was due to travel with the team to Antalya, Turkey on April 14. But she didn’t show up. We couldn’t reach her because her phone number has been deactivated. It is not known why she did not join the camp. She should have been in Turkey with the rest of the athletes but she ran away. The AIU is also looking for her to collect samples for doping testing,” an AFI source said.

The female athlete was part of the national camp four years ago after clocking less than 53 seconds in a varsity competition. But coaches were left baffled after she slowed down significantly at camp.

The AFI is keen for the athlete to join the national camp for two reasons: her timing makes her a strong candidate for the women’s 4x400m relay team, and national camp athletes are regularly tested for banned performance-enhancing substances. . If a relay team finishes on the podium and one of the runners tests positive, the team loses the medal.

There have been a number of cases in the past where athletes stayed away from national camps, trained with their personal trainers, and then failed doping tests.

Among them, quarter mile Nirmala Sheoran, gold medalist at the 2017 Asian Championships in Athletics. A year later, at the Asian Games, she was not fielded in the relay team, finished fourth of the 400 meter individual race – and failed a doping test a few months later to receive a four-year ban.

Doping tests in Indian athletics made headlines after the IAU announced last week that discus throwing star Kamalpreet Kaur, sixth at the Tokyo Olympics, had tested positive for Stanozolol, a anabolic steroid banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. coded.

Kamalpreet was in the national camp before the Summer Games. She is the first Indian woman to break the 65 meter barrier and was expected to win medals at the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Championships.

A male javelin thrower, Asian Athletics Championship medalist and Tokyo Olympian also failed a doping test.

While there is still no doubt about the female athlete’s recent meteoric run, intelligence-based out-of-competition testing is one strategy being used to keep the sport clean.

Since 2017, the IAU has taken over the anti-doping program from World Athletics, including testing and intelligence gathering. Corruption, betting and manipulation of age and results also fall within the jurisdiction of the IAU.

Top athletes from all sports are named in a registered testing pool and must be available at a self-declared location for a specified one-hour window each day when testers may land to collect samples. Others whose performance improves unexpectedly, like the female athlete, are on the radar of agencies fighting doping in sport.

Naomi C. Amerson