Dwain Chambers: You can do all the training in the world, but if the crowd isn't cheering it's curtains
23:20 GMT, 7 May 2012
When Dwain Chambers heard he had been cleared to run for Olympic selection, you might have expected a bit of triumphalism, even jubilation, certainly celebration.
Instead, he sought isolation. He managed a smile when the phone call came and the verdict against the British Olympic Association was read to him. Then he walked out without a word to the squad of top Jamaicans he trains with, took flight to another Caribbean island and hid himself and his emotions away.
Training was the last thing he felt able to cope with.
Free to run: Dwain Chambers poses at Kingston's Emancipation Park on Monday after discussing his feelings towardsthe BOA's decision to free him for London 2012
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On Monday, back alongside former world record holder Asafa Powell and the others before seven hours of hard graft in Jamaica’s National Stadium, he spoke for the first time about the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision that opened his path to a controversial Olympic place.
The smile on Britain’s most derided drugs cheat is now broad, the emotions under control. Seated in the foyer of a downtown hotel, the words gushed from Chambers.
‘You cannot underestimate the effect this has had,’ he said. ‘I’d been raised up and then brought down. The announcement was going to be this week, then it wasn’t. I kept being pulled back and forth with emotions. I was stressed.
‘I’d try to train and feel worse. Everyone was saying I should be excited and elated but I wasn’t. I was just exhausted.
‘For years it’s been like running with Atlas on my back. Now that Atlas has been removed, I just feel drained. I didn’t realise it was going to have that effect on me.’
He brought the burden on himself by his use of anabolic steroids in 2002 and 2003. He was consequenetly suspended from competition for two years, though the BOA enforced a lifetime ban on his Olympic participation until last week’s court verdict denied them the right to select the team as they deemed fit.
London calling: Chambers feels the strain at his training camp in Jamaica where he is working seven hours a day in pursuit of his Olympic dream
His invitation to the national trials in Birmingham next month, the route to selection, is metaphorically in the post.
‘It will be the biggest race of my life,’ he said. ‘This one matters more. It’s one thing to be eligible but I still have to make the team.’
He will be favourite to take an automatic place by meeting the 100metres qualification time of 10.18sec. In a deplorable reflection on UK Athletics, the pack of richly-funded British youngsters chasing him have never quite managed to knock him off his No 1 perch, even now he is 34.
He said: ‘It’s harder for me and I guess I have to fight that bit harder. But I am a little bit hungrier than them.
Reflecting: Chambers sought isolation on hearing the news from the BOA
‘I didn’t even dream I could be at the Olympics. I thought I would be sitting at home watching. The Olympics was beyond me. I wouldn’t even have imagined it.
‘Now the reality is if I qualify I will be there. That is something I will cherish. I need to stay injury free and qualify, but it would be an honour. I have missed two Olympic Games. I want to make sure I do this one with pride and enjoy it.’
Stephen Francis, Powell’s coach who has been watching Chambers match his squad stride for stride for weeks, said at the weekend that the British athlete can make the Olympic final. Chambers smiles at the compliment. ‘I don’t fantasise but I haven’t ruled it out,’ he admits.
Chambers asked Francis during the World Indoor Championships in March about joining his group.
He explained: ‘I was scared about approaching him but he said, “Fine, no problem”, and his guys were more than happy. They laugh at me because I speak formal English. I have to speak real slow so they understand me.’
Not that there is breath enough for chatting during Francis’s sessions, 6am to 10am every morning and 3pm till 6pm every afternoon. Yesterday morning, the temperature close to 90oF by 8am, Francis had them doing eight 110m sprints.
‘You can see the pain etched on their faces,’ said Chambers’ manager Siza Agha, a criminal barrister who offered himself as an adviser when the sprinter was at his lowest point three years ago.
Chambers has financed the Jamaican venture himself.
‘I haven’t earned a massive amount in recent years, so I had to learn to save and be cost effective,’ he said. ‘Those savings are paying for a one-bedroom apartment 10 minutes from the track. All I need is a bed to sleep in, a track to run on and food to eat. I have just gone back to basics.’
He said he had received ‘tons’ of texts. They are from friends and well-wishers. But what of the millions of track fans who feel uneasy about his re-introduction How will the crowd react when his name is announced as he lines up in the Olympic Stadium
He is desperate for public support. ‘Otherwise it’s like going to a disco, having a DJ and no music,’ he said. ‘It don’t work. It’s the crowd that gets you going. You can do all the training in the world but if the crowd ain’t cheering, it’s curtains.
‘I think people respect my situation, that I’ve been honest about what I’ve done. Some don’t. Some feel very strongly. They feel if you are given an opportunity to compete for your country you shouldn’t jeopardise it, and I did. They are entitled to their opinion.
‘All I can do is say, “I’m sorry”. I made a mistake, a massive mistake, and all I want is another chance to correct it and do the best for my country.
‘I’m still day-dreaming. Something I thought would never happen for me is now happening but it doesn’t seem real.
‘What’s it going to take for it to sink in Perhaps to see my family. I don’t know. I’ve skyped them but you can’t hug a computer. Something will have to switch the light on.’
He thinks most British athletes are cool about him — 90 per cent, he says — even the other sprinters who are rivals for the three Olympic places.
He hopes to hear when he gets back to Britain next week of the first relay practice he can attend, a promise made by chief coach Charles van Commenee should the BOA ban be lifted.
More invitations than in past seasons are arriving already. The first is to race three other sub-10sec men in Puerto Rico next weekend. Then he faces Usain Bolt in Ostrava on May 23.
The invitation he covets most, to run at Crystal Palace in July that would indicate UK Athletics’ lifting of their ban on his participation in commercial races in Britain, is still awaited.
‘For the past few years, where I could compete next was always in the forefront of my mind; what I’m going to be asked, what I’m going to say. It was a mess. I couldn’t concentrate at all. I am hoping now we can put all this behind us and look forward to what is going to be a great Olympic Games and to me making the team.
Impact: Two months after this triumphant shot in 2003, Chambers tested positive for the banned substance THG
‘I am going to enjoy every moment, go to the opening ceremony, everything.’
Cyclist David Millar, another of those who had been affected by the BOA ban, has suggested he might not bother with the Olympics because of the hassle. That thought has not occurred to Chambers. He watched the two Olympic Games from which he was banned and that told him everything about his desire.
‘It’s my passion but it hurt a lot watching,’ he said. ‘Your competitors are competing and you’re sitting at home. That killed me. Now I have been given a second lifeline. I would never jeopardise that again. Never ever, ever.’
Nor will he end his career after the Games.
‘Who knows, it could take me to places I haven’t imagined. So many doors may open for me. This may be the start of something else. I don’t know. I’m still muddled with the emotions but I feel alive again.’
His thoughts turn again to the Olympic Stadium, just 20 minutes from where he lives. He drives past it with his three children, Skye, six, Rocco, three, and Phoenix, six months, to visit friends. ‘My kids say, “Dad, are you going to be there”’
‘I’ve always said “I don’t know”. Now I can say “Hopefully”. That will be nice.’