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Sunita stripped of her medals while her officials run for cover

Shinder Pal came to Delhi in a last-ditch effort to save his family’s honour when the shattering news came: his sister and golden girl ...

Written by SAMAR HALARNKAR | New Delhi |
October 17, 2002

Shinder Pal came to Delhi in a last-ditch effort to save his family’s honour when the shattering news came: his sister and golden girl Sunita Rani had failed her second and final dope test.

The organising committee of the Busan Asian Games announced today that Sunita Rani had been stripped of her Asian Games medals after the second test on ‘B’ sample taken from her yesterday showed the same results.

Lim Chae-Sup, an official at the Asian Games’ Doping Control Centre said the Olympic Council of Asia subsequently decided to strip Rani of the medals and delete her records.

Only an hour earlier, Pal and his cousin, pharmacist Ashok Goel, were at The Indian Express office. They were carrying medical reference books and photocopied material — meticulously underlined and highlighted — about the failings in the test for the steroid in question: nandrolone.

‘‘Whatever has happened is God’s will,’’ said the crestfallen Shinder Pal, who had come with his cousin from their hometown of Sunam, 60 km south of Sangrur in Punjab to point out holes in the nandrolone test.

Two days of research came to naught when Rani’s second test, carried out after an appeal, was again positive for nandrolone. Threats of action against Rani — stripped of her 1,500-metre, record-breaking gold and 5,000-metre bronze — were swift from Indian officials.

The Indian Olympic Association said it would take the ‘‘strictest possible’’ action. IOA president Suresh Kalmadi said he hadn’t seen the results but if true ‘‘exemplary punishment’’ would follow. All that Kalmadi was willing to say was that ‘‘doping was getting out of hand in the country.’’

Yet, Indian officialdom must explain Rani’s downfall. About 40 Indian athletes before the Games were sent to Ukraine and Russia to prepare for the Asian Games. Both the countries abound in illegal substances — nandrolone is freely available in both countries and in India, whereas it requires a prescription in the West; and people there know how to use and mask them.

The prime reason for athletes to be sent to former Soviet trainers is because of their enviable track records and the fact they come relatively cheap. Who monitored the training? Many Indian officials or coaches who were with the team are now suddenly hard to find.

Rani was under a cloud before the Olympic Games in 2000 as well, the subject of unknown injections, prescribed without record or any prescription by a Ukranian coach.

That was meant to fix a stress fracture of the hip. If Rani is guilty of doping, it is unlikely that she acted on her own. The question is: who knew?

However her brother, Shinder Pal, who is camping at a gurdwara in the Capital, maintains that Sunita is innocent. ‘‘She has not taken anything. That is our final stand.’’ But he adds, ‘‘At this point, we are not in a position to talk but what we don’t understand is why is nobody in India talking about the two medals that the country has lost because of the campaign against her.’’(With inputs from Manish Kumar)

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