Dwain Chambers calls time on his 25-year career with a warning for those about to dope

Dwain Chambers has beaten Usain Bolt to the finishing line. The only sprinter to run under ten seconds in three different decades is hanging up his spikes on the eve of the World Championships. When the bunting comes down a man synonymous with the dark side of athletics wants to be the warning beacon for those about to dope.
02 August 2017
by:   Times Sport - Rick Broadbent

Some will prefer to condemn Chambers, snared in the Californian drug bust that preceded Russia’s scandal by a decade, as part of the problem rather than the solution, but he believes that the only way to stop the cheats is to get them before the first poisoned pill is popped.

“Getting caught for most people is a relief,” he says after coaching a small group of children at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre. “When you are on that gravy train and it starts to move at 1,000mph there is no way you are going to jump off safely. You are going to get cut and bruised and you may never get up again.”

Bolt, 31 this month, has 11 days’ left before he quits. He has been the sport’s saving grace. Chambers is 39 and has a story that is sport noir. A hugely talented sprinter, he moved to San Francisco to work with the nutritionist Victor Conte in 2002. Conte, a former bassist for Herbie Hancock, would serve time for steroid distribution and money laundering when his Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative was unveiled as a doping lab. Chambers’s European 100m record of 9.87sec was scratched from the history books. So was his title. His two-year ban expired in 2005, but the repercussions lasted through fleeting thoughts of suicide, the failed High Court battle to overturn the BOA’s lifetime ban in 2008 and, then, his return to London in 2012. In the interim he released a biography in which his scattergun was aimed at what he called the supposed hypocrisy of Sebastian Coe.

He is a very different figure now; the gold tooth has gone because it reminded him of the past; he is a father of three; happy. And now that he is leaving the sport after 25 years, he wants to do good. So what would he teach prospective dopers? For a start he would tell them that their children might taunt them.

Chambers’s middle child, Rocco, is eight. “He takes the mickey out of me. He says, ‘My dad took Peds [performance-enhancing drugs].’ I can laugh about it now but I didn’t always. A few years ago I sat the kids down and told them what I did. I wanted them to hear it from the horse’s mouth. They asked why. I said I didn’t think I was good enough to be at the top without it. Now I realise it didn’t help me. It ruined me. Choose to go down that road and it will not go anywhere. You will lose your friends and your family and your support.

“I’d like to think it has changed. The situation with Russia has opened my eyes because we’re now getting a lot more intel, which will make a big difference, but where one door closes another opens. Athletes definitely need to be more educated — that when they get to a certain level someone might say, ‘Do this.’ If there is no pre-training they will fall into the trap. I could not do it when I was in the sport because athletes on the inside would feel uncomfortable. Now I can be that voice.”

dwain chambersA mother comes up and asks for a photograph with her son. Chambers used to worry what parents would think, but he trains children as well as athletes and people from the film industry via his Chambers for Sport company. He stopped worrying when he realised he had to live with his past rather than flee it. “Now people either accept me or dislike me,” he says.

He says he never thought that he would get caught. “Nobody does, but Victor did warn me. He said, ‘Don’t come crying when the paparazzi come calling.’ Look, I knew what I had got into.” Now he cannot watch the film The Matrix, where the hero is offered red or blue pills, without thinking about the impact of old choices. When he speaks to schools, he uses the analogy of a teacher offering to show you the answers before an exam. “How many would look and how many wouldn’t? You want to pass, but there will always be the guilt and fear of the knock on the door.”

Chambers knows many people will not be able to look back without mud-splattered spectacles. He says that he has only really learnt to cope with what he did in the past three years. “I did not realise the magnitude and longevity of what I was doing,” he says. “The vibrations did not fade until I realised they weren’t going to. There was such an explosion that I could not take it back. In the end I didn’t want to.”

He departs the sport but not the record books. After his comeback he won the world and European indoor titles in 2010 and 2009 respectively. His time of 6.42 for the 60m is a European record and makes him the third-fastest man of all time. He ran against Linford Christie, Carl Lewis and Bolt, training with Bolt when Jamaica was more forgiving than Britain after his exile. He was also part of the most fabulous night in sprinting history, Bolt’s 9.58 fantasy run in Berlin in 2009. He will be watching Bolt on Saturday. “I hope he wins,” he says. “It would be the perfect finish.”

Chambers trains all ages, explaining how he reprogrammes children with what he calls the “Xbox body”. He took Skye, Rocco and Phoenix to the World Para Athletics Championships last month and is looking forward to being a spectator for the first time. “I look back now and 90 per cent of it was a blast,” he says.

But can he trust athletics after once believing it was impossible to win clean? “It’s a matter of what you choose to believe,” he says. “There are issues everywhere, politics, life, tragedies on the TV. Everyone is divided at the moment, but if more people came together and told their stories honestly the world would be a better place.”

The IAAF wants to recruit Bolt when he retires on Sunday week. Chambers remains the outsider but his story is still pertinent. Athletics is bracing itself for life after Bolt. As for the dopers of London, the man who knows warns that the aftermath is hell.

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