With about a week to go for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, two of India’s brightest track and field athletes have failed dope tests, The Indian Express has learnt.
Dhanalakshmi Sekar (24), who had recently clocked the third best ever timing for an Indian woman sprinter in 200m with 22.89s, tested positive for banned substances in tests conducted by Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), an international anti-doping body.
The other athlete is national triple jump record holder Aishwarya Babu (25), who was tested by the National Anti Doping (NADA) at the recently concluded Inter-State Meet in Chennai. At the meet, she had broken a decade-old triple jump record, set by Mayookah Johny, with a leap of 14.14m.
Dhanalakshmi had qualified for the 200m in the World Championships but her name did not find a mention on the start list while Aishwarya was a medal hopeful in both the triple jump and the long jump at the Commonwealth Games, which starts on July 28.
Athletics Federation of India (AFI) officials did not comment on the tests or respond to queries about the growing number of Indian dope cheats caught in recent times.
Since last year’s Olympics in Japan, several big names in Indian athletics have tested positive for banned substances. The list includes discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur, who finished sixth in Tokyo, and javelin thrower Shivpal Yadav, who recorded the second best throw by an Indian after Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra.
India is ranked third in doping cases, according to the latest World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report released in 2021. With 152 cases across disciplines, the country is marginally below leaders Russia (167) and Italy (157).
The scourge of doping is present at the age-group level, too. An under-23 medal winner in the women’s 100m and a podium finisher among men at the Open Nationals have tested positive, too.
The Indian Express had reported on May 10 about how one of the country’s top 400m women runners evaded dope testers, including those from the AIU, for over a month.
Coaches and former international athletes have expressed concern over the spate of positive tests.
Mayookah Johny, who had appreciated Aishwarya’s record-breaking effort last month, said athletes shouldn’t take shortcuts. “I was so happy that someone new had come and improved the standards in triple jump. But when I got to know about her test I was so disappointed. It is unfair to others. I know how much effort went into creating that record and if someone breaks it using shortcuts it’s unjust. I will be more than happy if someone clean breaks my mark again,” said Johny, who is the first Indian woman to breach the 14m mark.
Robert Bobby George, who coached his wife Anju Bobby George to India’s only athletics World Championship medal in 2003, said he had been sceptical about Ashwarya’s record.
“Her improvements were massive and not natural. I go to the ground and stand for 5-7 hours and come back home to prepare the next day’s plan. My athletes and I give 100 percent, and this is so demoralising for honest coaches and athletes. People take shortcuts and win medals while we sweat it out day and night,” he said.
Robert’s trainees Shaili Singh, 2021 World junior silver medalist, and triple jumper Swant Poorva finished fourth in Chennai with their best attempts reading 6.26m and 12.78m.
“I am happy that the triple jump record will not be on Aishwarya’s name now and that two of my wards will get bronze medals. It is better to win fewer medals than take shortcuts,” he said.
According to Robert, agencies should investigate the source of doping material to weed out the menace. “Any athlete caught should not be allowed to participate unless they reveal their source and provide all details of the dealers, etc., apart from serving their bans,” he said.