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NEW DELHI: In a huge setback to India in its preparations for the 19th Asian athletics championships to be held in Kobe from July 7, two of its leading woman quarter-milers have tested positive in out-of-competition tests conducted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
In a first-ever instance in Indian athletics, in tests conducted by an international agency, these two athletes, both among the top four in the country last year as well as this season, were ‘caught' as their urine samples collected at the National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala, last month, turned up ‘positive'.
Both came over to Delhi on Monday to be present at their ‘B' sample testing at the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL).
Pending their ‘B' sample reports, sources in the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) refused to comment on the development.
One of the athletes is a sub-52-second 400 metres runner while the other is a sub-53-second quarter-miler. Both were named in the yet-to-be-announced Indian team for the Asian championships. Now, with both doubtful to make it, the AFI may have to rope in Tintu Luka, 800m runner from the Usha School of Athletics, Kerala, to be part of the 4x400m relay team.
It is learnt that the IAAF would be in charge of the ‘results management' since the two women are ‘international-level' athletes.
The IAAF is also expected to impose provisional suspensions once the ‘B' sample results are known.
The sample collection was done by International Doping Tests and Management (IDTM), Sweden, on behalf of the IAAF.
An international testing team was still stationed at the NIS, Patiala, according to sources on Monday, having reached there around a week ago for carrying out further tests among the athletes.
Meanwhile, a team from the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) also reached Patiala on Tuesday ostensibly to test the athletes.
If the two leading woman 400m runners are eventually charged with anti-doping rule violations and they are found guilty, it should raise suspicions about the AFI's training programme, the role of the coaches, especially the foreign ones, and the backing being given by the Government agencies.
One of the women was in the Indian 4x400m relay team that won the gold in both the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games last year, feats that were praised sky-high by commentators and hailed by the public. She was also part of the Indian teams in the World championships in 2007 and the Beijing Olympics.
The AFI has, incidentally, a poor record in conducting dope hearings of leading athletes. It took almost a year to simply ‘warn' discus thrower Seema Antil for a stimulant offence in the World junior championships in 2000; took nearly two years to give a verdict in discus thrower Anil Kumar's case in the 2005 Asian championships; reprieved discus thrower Neelam J. Singh first after her 2005 World championships doping infraction before being threatened by the IAAF and reversing the decision; and reprieved Seema for an out-of-competition ‘positive' in 2006 before the Asian Games, claiming that the sample collection procedures were flawed.
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