Twelve months ago British sprinter Dwain Anthony Chambers attempted to become an NFL star. He attempted valiantly to play in the limelight in America, turn over a new leaf, walk past the transgressions he committed in the sport of track and field and into the promising and quite lucrative sport of tackle football some five time zones and one continent removed from home – and away from critics.
A year later, after having made and then lost out on what was to have been the next stage in his bid to become an NFL star after injuring himself during a practice session, Chambers is attempting to make a comeback into the sport which once hailed him as a hero, and now looks down condescendingly to a man who had cheated his way to the top.
Chambers, the former European Champion over 100m, built his previous athletic success by taking drugs — illegal, performance-enhancing ones which, at the time, were completely undetectable, absolutely unknown and unequivocally wrong to use.
These were BALCO drugs, and having been outed as an associate of Victor Conte and Remi Korchemny, Chambers paid a steep and heavy price for his role in that scandal – one which has mainly been American-based and has involved persons like Marion Jones and Dana Stubblefield – two former athletes who have in recent days both been charged with lying to the same U.S. IRS Agent, Jeff Novitsky, regarding their association to Conte's illegal laboratory in Burlingame, California.
Jones is set to spend six months in prison for her role in that case along with an unrelated check-fraud one; Stubblefield will be sentenced in two months' time.
Chambers, who has never been jailed for a crime many consider relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, has a hill to traverse as he attempts to lace up his spikes and compete for a living – literally and in the figurative sense. No, make that a mountain to climb. He has no less than £180.000 (roughly $360.000) to repay to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for having confessed to previously earning a living on their dime, to to speak.
I'm following Chambers' aspirations with keen appreciation, as I had a previous opportunity to spend time with him one-on-one, and experience the sincerity he displays when he speaks about his life openly and with stunning candor.
The athletic road ahead for Chambers will test him to wits' end, as he attempts to jump through hurdles and obstacles to regain form, fitness, and opportunity to compete at an incredibly high price – one which will cost meet organisers nothing in the form of appearance fees, but will cost Chambers everything until he is able to satisfy his debt to the IAAF.
Chambers has a greater debt to Great Britain and his sports federation than he does to the international governing body of his sport, for he has shamed his nation and merely ripped off the former.
Sebastian Coe, Vice President of the IAAF – and former multiple middle distance world-record holder, stated a week ago that he would not remain quiet about Chambers's possible selection to the British team should he qualify, but would leave the decision up to UK Athletics. Steve Cram, who's best mile time removed Coe from the top of the world-record list, also voiced his concerns in a column a day after Coe did.
Chambers faced tall odds on his previous return to track and field in 2006, but seemed to get through them without falling apart in the process. His drive got him back on to the track. His determination landed him to the next level up where he was able to be selected to the European Championships relay team for Great Britain.
Unfortunately, no amount of grit in the world will be sufficient enough to provide Chambers one of those precious few spots on his Olympic team — a goal to which every professional track and field athlete aspires. And his national athletics body — along with several senior-level key players — are hoping to stop Chambers from potentially further ruining their nation's reputation — especially as they set shop up to host the 2012 Olympic Games.
Chambers will need to bottle up all of his anger, every bit of his remorse, his entire stock and supply of hope and combine them with a genuinely large stroke of luck in order to be considered for the Great Britain & Northern Ireland Olympic team.
First, however, he will need to line up on a track and begin putting up times and places which would warrant such a look — a process which will elude him this winter indoor season as his colleagues prepare to contest the World Indoor Championships in Valencia in March. UK Athletics mandated that all athletes who were interested in competing at their national championships would have had to have been in a 12-month anti-doping process as dictated by IAAF. Chambers failed to meet this criteria, as he was not available for IAAF antil-doping procedures during his attempt to make the NFL through the now defunct NFL Europe.
Chambers is demonstrating remarkable composure and dedication to this venture. Will the men in charge at the next junction pick the last man standing, or will they pen a red line through his name, yell, "next", and tell Chambers "thank you, you may go home now, goodbye"?
Whether or not Chambers made a successful journey to the NFL, he vowed last year to return to the track.
"Part of my mind is saying, 'leave track alone' but it is not the wise thing to do. If it doesn’t work out in Tampa, I’ve time for track this summer," he was quoted as saying in the Daily Mail over a year ago.
"I plan to come back to track regardless. It’s something I still believe I have a passion for. At the moment, I don’t but I will in time."
Chambers has a great support system behind him, having his mother, Adlith and his partner, Leone backing him as he continues forward from a past filled with a commitment to excellence, but also a past which crossed over to a darker period he'd just as soon forget.
Of Leone, he states: "If I didn’t [listen to her], I’d get my ear chewed. And then I speak to Jonathan and he brings a whole different perspective to it. It’s tough because I am used to doing everything my way."
Chambers opens up candidly about his mother.
"She always said, 'be careful what you do', and then for her to have to go out still holding her head up when people made comments … that’s hard on her.
"She was fantastic. In her mind, as long as I am okay, she is okay. She always says what people write in the papers are just words. Mind, I only showed her positive stuff in papers. Mothers don’t understand negative stuff, do they?
"She’s strong and she has her church and that kept her uplifted a lot, and during that time I kept with her a lot which helped put her mind at ease, and now she gets to see my son a lot which takes her mind off the other things."
Chambers is attempting to be very careful about how he proceeds in the sport, because he has a life savings of money to repay. He also has several million people who believe he is a pariah to convince that he was an honest man who made a mistake.
Honesty wasn't Chambers's best quality when he was discovered to have been a drugs cheat during the BALCO investigation, and he, like others including Jones, fully and rigorously denied having any connection to performance-enhancing drugs. His country bought it, and stuck with him at a very high price.
It seems that repayment plan – including interest – is not something Chambers will be able to afford, no matter how much sentiment or desire he puts into it.