The most brilliant athlete I’ve ever seen close up was Mark Richardson. My age; a specialist in the adjoining event (400 metres to my 800 metres), I remember him from school championships.
He was a charismatic runner; from the gun, he would immediately be in contention. At 50 metres, he would allow himself to ease to the front. The next 50 metres were the key part of the race. Briefly, he would allow his body to reach its maximum acceleration, establishing a four or five metre lead. And then, for the rest of the race, he was ease personified. Often he was barely jogging by the time he reached the finish line. I never saw another runner come close to him. Even forcing him to sweat would have been a challenge.
Mark went on to be one of the very few athletes ever to beat the quadruple Olympic champion Michael Johnson.
Holder of gold medals of his own for the 4 x 400 metre relay at the World and European Championships, Mark failed a drugs test in autumn 1999 for use of the steroid nandrolone. He blamed the test result of dietary supplements but did not contest the ban, and returned to competitive activity in 2001 before achilles injuries forced him out of the sport.
Was Mark a drugs cheat? He had said that he was not; rather he accepted that he been negligent in taking supplements without knowing their contents but denied intent. I don’t believe that this put him in a very different position from Dwain Chambers whose case is before the Court of Abritration today.
Had Mark not been injured; would I have liked to see him run at the Olympics? Yes. Because I have an understanding that the circumstances under which a serious athlete can blur the line are closer than some people seem to think; that in a humble chemists’ shop there are any number of chemicals which can make an athlete faster, and the temptation is always there.
Because I know that there are already all sorts of legitimate ways in which the richest sporting federations can purchase better outcomes for their preferred athletes: altitude training, buy-outs from paid employment, access to the very top advice in terms of nutrition, training etc.
And because I believe that people deserve a second chance. Mark Richardson did his crime, but he also served his time. And that should be the end of it.