Dope scandal haunts Indian athletics in Year 2011

New Delhi: After a rewarding 2010, athletics slumped to a low this year, turning out to be the country`s dirtiest sport with seven top athletes, including three Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medalists, getting involved in one of India`s biggest doping scandals.

Asian Games double gold-medalist Ashwini Akkunji and her 4x400m relay team-mates Sini Jose and Mandeep Kaur were among the dope offenders after being caught for using banned steroids in May and June. They were handed one-year bans by a National Anti-Doping Agency panel, virtually ending their London Olympic dreams and more than that turning them into villains from stars they were last year.

The tainted athletes though had something to smile about as the panel ruled that there was no significant fault on their part as the banned substances could have entered their body from the contaminated food supplements given by their Ukrainian coach Yuri Ogorodnik who was sacked after the scandal.

Besides the trio, top quarter milers Priyanka Panwar, Jauna Murmu and Tiana Mary Thomas were handed reduced penalties of one-year bans while long jumper Hari Krishnan was banned for two years.

The dope scandal hogged the limelight in Indian sports this year and the sports ministry had to form a one-man committee under Justice Mukul Mugdal to probe into the whole episode that rocked the country in May-June. .

The committee, however, is understood to have given a clean chit to the athletes, holding that they had consumed ginseng – a permissible supplement – contaminated with prohibited substances.

Justice Mudgal`s report to the sports ministry is learnt to have said that the banned substances had entered the body of the athletes "accidentally" through contaminated food supplements.

The results of the tests done on the food supplements by the National Dope Test Laboratory established that they were contaminated with banned steroids.

At the international scene, India did not have much to show as its athletes expectedly failed to win a single medal in the World Championships in South Korea while they did a decent job in the Asian Championships in Japan.

Discus thrower Vikas Gowda and long jumper Mayookha Johny reached the finals but finished seventh and ninth respectively. Mayookha was also the lone gold medal winner in the Asian Athletics Championships in long jump as India won 11 medals (one gold, two silver and eight bronze). Mayookha grabbed her second medal – a bronze – with a new national triple jump record of 14.11m.

Vikas Gowda and Sudha Singh bagged silver each in men`s discus throw and women`s 3,000m steeplechase.

Asian Games gold medalist Preeja Sreedharan (women`s 10,000m), Om Prakash Karhana (men`s shot put), Harwant Kaur (women`s discus throw), O P Jaisha (women`s 1500m), Bharat Inder Singh (decathlon), Preeja Shreedharan (women`s 10,000m), Tintu Luka (women`s 800m) and Ghamanda Ram (men`s 800m) won a bronze each.

Despite being embroiled in the dope scandal, Indian athletes began the preparations for next year`s Olympics with five of them qualified for the London Games.

Krishna Poonia (women`s discus throw), Tintu Luka, Mayookha Johny, Gurmeet Singh (men`s 20km walk), Om Prakash Karhana are the ones who have booked their London tickets.

It was a productive year for Mayookha after an indifferent season in 2010 as she also created a new national record in triple jump with an effort of 14.11m. She became the first Indian woman triple jumper to cross the 14m mark.

Among other national records created during the year were that of Gurmeet Singh in the 20km walk race during the first Indian Grand Prix in Patiala in March and the 20-year-old Siddhanth Thingalaya`s 13.81 sec effort in 110m hurdles in the Open Nationals in Kolkata.