'Tainted' win: India's Ashwini Akkunji, Manjeet Kaur, Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose celebrate their win in the women's 4x400m relay final of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Picture: AFP Source: AFP
Coach sacked in India dope scandal
July 06, 2011
INDIA'S sports minister has sacked the Ukrainian coach of the country's top female 400m runners after a major doping scandal.
Six runners on the team have tested positive for banned steroids, throwing Indian athletics into turmoil.
"I have asked for his removal. He has already been removed," Ajay Maken told a news conference in New Delhi, referring to Yuri Ogrodnik, who coached three of the six to gold medals at the Commonwealth and Asian Games last year.
Late Monday, one of India's brightest female track stars, Ashwini Akkunji, joined her 4x400m relay teammates Sini Jose and Mandeep Kaur in failing a drugs test because of traces of a banned anabolic steroid in her urine.
Akkunji, Jose and Kaur were part of India's Commonwealth and Asian Games-winning team in New Delhi and Guangzhou, China, last year. Akkunji also took the 400m hurdles Asiad title in a personal best time.
The trio are among eight athletes - six female 400m runners, a female shotputter and a male long-jumper - who have now failed drugs tests, casting a cloud over Indian athletics and denting the country's Olympic ambitions.
All have been provisionally suspended pending the testing of their second, or "B", samples later this week, the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) said.
The athletes have all protested their innocence and blamed contaminated food supplements for the results. They have also claimed that there were not enough doctors to advise them on which supplements to take.
"I'm innocent and I'll prove it. I won't let all my years of sweat and blood be tainted," Akkunji was quoted as saying by the Asian Age newspaper.
Ogrodnik also said he was innocent, claiming he had asked his athletes to "buy only food supplements and not steroids".
"I am not a fool to tell athletes to buy and consume something which is in the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) list. I have given only medals and not steroids," he told the Times Now television news network.
Mr Maken told reporters he has asked the Sports Authority of India, NADA and the Athletics Federation of India for detailed reports into the circumstances leading to the positive tests, and ordered an inquiry by a retired high court judge.
"We will catch coaches and officials who were involved, not just athletes," Mr Maken vowed, adding: "We can't be lenient. ...
"The coach says he didn't know that the athletes were taking banned substances -- then I think he's all the more responsible for what's happened. The coach is supposed to know what they're taking and tell them what to take."
The tests were carried out either at a national training camp in Patiala, in the northern state of Punjab, during the last two months or after a track meeting in the southern city of Bangalore in late June.
India has never won a track medal at the Olympics and the women's 4x400m relay team was seen as the country's biggest hope of a podium finish at next year's Games in London after their Commonwealth and Asiad golds.
They had been due to compete in the Asian Championships in Japan later this week.
The director-general of NADA, Rahul Bhatnagar, said the fourth member of the women's 4x400m relay team, Manjeet Kaur, had not been tested.