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Neelam J. Singh tests positive

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: One of the most experienced Indian athletes, discus thrower Neelam Jaswant Singh, has tested positive.

In a startling announcement from Helsinki on Saturday, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) stated that Neelam had tested positive in a test conducted in-competition during the ongoing World championships for the banned stimulant pemoline.

She has been provisionally suspended by the IAAF and the matter has been referred to the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) for further action. If found guilty, Neelam faces suspension for a minimum period of two years.

Neelam was tested after she finished her qualifying round in discus on August 7, ending up 19th among 22 contestants. Her's is the first positive test at the championships after more than 500 tests.

The IAAF informed The Hindu on Saturday that Neelam's `B' sample also had turned up positive, confirming the `A' sample analysis and that the Indian athlete had already offered an explanation to the IAAF which was not accepted.

"The athlete now has the right to a proper hearing as soon as possible," an IAAF spokesman stated. It was not immediately known whether Neelam and her husband and coach Jaswant Singh had returned to India.

From what the IAAF had stated it was clear that the Asian Games champion had been told about the positive at Helsinki and that she was given an opportunity to explain how the banned stimulant had turned up in her sample.

This is the first international-level positive in athletics in the country after the infamous Sunita Rani scandal that erupted at the Busan Asian Games in 2002. Sunita was eventually reprieved.

The athletics fraternity received the news in utter disbelief and shock on Saturday. The AFI Secretary, Lalit Bhanot, who was apparently informed of the test a day earlier, said that his federation would go ahead with the proceedings as laid down.

"Neelam will be given an opportunity to explain. We will take appropriate action if she is found guilty," said Mr. Bhanot. "But this has come to us as a big surprise. Such a seasoned athlete as Neelam cannot be expected to test positive. She must have been tested more than 25 times at the international meets in the past. She has been tested regularly by the IAAF for being among the top athletes of the world," Mr. Bhanot said.

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