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Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
The murky world of doping and denial
Brahim Boulami waves the Moroccan flag
Boulami celebrates his world record in Zurich

Brahim Boulami's positive test for EPO casts a shadow over what should have been a golden finale to the 2002 athletics season.

His 3,000m steeplechase world record at the Weltklasse Golden League meeting in Zurich a fortnight ago is the only world record that has been set on the track this year.

The news that the Moroccan failed blood and urine tests taken the previous night leaves that new mark looking dirtier than a cross-country spike in winter.

Brahim Boulami in action in Brussels in 2001
Boulami is facing a long ban from athletics
If athletics governing body, the IAAF, had had its way, the world would still be none the wiser about Boulami.

Under IAAF guidelines, both the 'A' and 'B' samples should be tested before any announcement is made.

But the Moroccan athletics federation, which like Boulami was informed as soon as the 'A' sample showed irregularities, made the news public on Thursday morning.

Boulami has, like all athletes who find themselves in his position, denied all knowledge of how the EPO could have found its way into his system.

"I am willing to undergo all kinds of tests," he says. "I train in high altitude in Ifrane (Morocco) four to five months a year - that's the only doping I could be accused of."

Gossips and guilt

Rumours are always flying around the athletics community about which athlete might be on which banned substance. Most of the time it is nothing but conjecture.

Two of the most oft-used measures the gossips use as an indication of an athlete's guilt are the rate of their improvement and how often they race.

Brahim Boulami clears a hurdle
Boulami has protested his innocence
The thinking is that a sudden dramatic jump in class is unlikely beyond a certain age, and that the less you race, the less doping tests you are likely to undergo.

Boulami was the classic late developer. He is also self-coached.

But against that you have the fact that he races frequently on the European circuit.

And anyway, those measures by themselves remain nothing but hearsay until backed up by a positive test.

The French media are currently convinced that Paula Radcliffe must be doping.

They point to her huge improvements this year and the very limited number of races she has run.

But Radcliffe has cleared four drug tests this summer alone and quite rightly puts her improvement down to the changes she has made to her training to prepare for the London and Chicago marathons.

She also points to her newfound confidence and the very fact that she is fresh because she races sparingly.

Banned if guilty

Boulami broke his old world record by 2.3 seconds in Zurich. That is a huge chunk to take off, and was enough by itself to set tongues wagging.

The tragedy, if Boulami is indeed found guilty, is that no athlete will be able to fairly set a new record by a substantial margin without also being tarred with the same brush.

Boulami was the first non-Kenyan since 1976 to hold the world steeplechase record.

After trailing home 10th in last year's world championships and finishing only seventh in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he wanted a world title next summer to seal his reputation.

Now he faces a possible two-year suspension from the sport.

It would make him the second Moroccan-born athlete in a month to be banned for EPO.

At the start of August, Mohammed Mourhit, who now runs for Belgium, was suspended for three-years after testing positive for EPO before the world half-marathon championships.

BBC Five Live's John Rawling
"Boulami faces a lengthy ban"
See also:

29 Aug 02 | Athletics
24 Aug 01 | Athletics
08 Aug 02 | European Athletics
17 Mar 02 | Athletics
09 Nov 01 | Other Sports
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