Toronto trainer urged to speak out on Jamaican sprinters' positive drug tests

Asafa Powell's admission of a positive test for a banned stimulant is turning Jamaica upside down....

Asafa Powell's admission of a positive test for a banned stimulant is turning Jamaica upside down. (Reuters)

PATRICK MALONEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:19 PM ET

The bold Jamaican anti-doping crusader who is asking uncomfortable questions about her nation’s track superstars has simple advice for the Canadian near the centre of the roiling controversy.

Speak out now — and do it loudly.

It’s been five weeks since Jamaican track sensation Asafa Powell admitted to testing positive for a banned stimulant, a scandalous result the superstar sprinter’s agent blames on his relatively new trainer, Chris Xuereb of Toronto.

With Jamaica still reeling, and Powell silent, the island country’s recently ousted anti-doping boss is blowing the lid off its troubled drug-testing program and advising Xuereb to step from the shadows.

“This is too big. This is not something anybody can sweep under the carpet,” Renee Anne Shirley told QMI Agency on Thursday.

His best option? Shirley says he should go to World Anti-Doping Agency boss David Howman — who is based in Montreal — and tell all he knows.

“The truth needs to come out because it’s not fair to him or (Powell),” Shirley said.

Xuereb has ignored QMI requests for comment, though he did release a statement last month in which he blasted Powell and fellow gold-medalist Sherone Simpson, who also failed a test, for making him “a scapegoat” in the scandal.

“Athletes keep using the same story, which is to blame the scapegoat for their own wrongdoing,” Xuereb wrote.

But while some journalists have swallowed Powell’s blame-the-trainer explanation in one gulp, Shirley remains skeptical. That’s largely because Powell, Simpson and fellow Olympic gold-medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown (a banned diuretic) all failed tests in close succession, unsettling a tiny nation that takes enormous pride in its global track dominance.

The jaw-dropping facts that Shirley is airing now will do little to ease the worldwide skeptics who’ve long questioned how a country of fewer than three million people can so dominate track and field events.

In an online column she published this week for Sports Illustrated, Shirley states that Jamaica’s anti-doping program — which she helped create, until she left in frustration this winter — “makes a mockery” of its stated goal.

From February 2012 to last summer’s London Olympics, at which Jamaican sprinters reigned, only one athlete was given an out-of-competition test — and not a single such test was administered in the three months leading to the Games.

“Everybody is going to have to come clean,” Shirley said, adding she’d long warned her superiors that loose drug-testing and athletes’ reckless use of supplements could spell disaster.

The Powell scandal, meanwhile, has been particularly painful. While 100-metre champ Usain Bolt is the global icon, many Jamaicans hold Powell in higher esteem: He is humble, dedicated but seen as an athlete who simply doesn’t have the mental strength to win the biggest races.

“That’s what our country wants to see: Effort,” Shirley said. “You don’t have to finish first, but you’ve got to try hard. That’s our personality — underdogs, the ones that try hard.”

There is no overstating how powerful a role Jamaica’s track dominance plays in the nation’s self-image. Any further doping scandals, Shirley said, would be “devastating.”

And that’s why she’s speaking out now, even while many of her country’s politicians try, in her opinion, to kill the debate.

Shirley, it appears, has met the fate of many other anti-doping officials: Success and skill can be equated with failure, and being too good at your job is a good way to lose it. Officials who can find nothing wrong, after all, may be worth their weight in gold medals.

But just as she hopes Xuereb will speak out soon, Shirley believes silence is not an option.

“I’m usually not very popular, but certainly I’m not the most popular person (in Jamaica) today,” she said. “A lot of knives are out for me.” 


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