at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Just before 6am each morning, a Toyota Land Cruiser pulls up at the entrance to Jamaica’s national athletics stadium. The driver and his companion briefly pay their respects to the imposing statue of Bob Marley.
A few moments later Asafa Powell, one of the fastest men in the world, climbs down from the driver’s seat and slings a track bag over his shoulder.
Alongside him is disgraced British sprinter Dwain Chambers, heading out towards the spongy surface at Stadium East, the training temple for Jamaica’s elite athletes.
It is early, but not for the men and women who are on the track before the sun rises over Long Mountain.
“I’m just here, keeping my head down, no dramas,” Chambers told Daily Mail on Tuesday, still sweating heavily after completing a three-hour training session at the acclaimed MVP Track Club.
Only this is Dwain’s World and everyone is watching. Waiting for the verdict from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Waiting for the verdict that will allow him to run for Great Britain in the London Games, 92 days from now.
The British Olympic Association have stood firm in their belief that Chambers and other drug cheats should suffer a lifetime Olympic ban, until now. A legal challenge is likely to defeat their stance. Chambers will run in London, all that we are waiting for is the final judgement. It is days away.
Chambers has a best over 100metres of 9.97sec from 12 years ago. His fastest time last year was 10.01sec, which didn’t make the world’s top 20. The Olympic qualifying time is 10.18sec and Chambers should power to that standard at the UK trials in Birmingham on June 22-24. The first two will qualify for Team GB and Chambers is still the best we have got.
He arrived in Jamaica five weeks ago, to train without “dramas” alongside some of the fastest athletes in the world while he waits for CAS to rule in his battle to compete in this summer’s Olympics.
Powell, fellow sprinters Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – 100m gold medallist in Beijing four years ago – and Melanie Walker, 400m gold medallist in 2008, are the wow factor here.
Chambers said: “I’m coping fine, I’m just training hard in a different environment and it’s a change from anything I’ve experienced in the past. It’s difficult, but I’m getting used to it and it is a question of waiting (for the ruling). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it.
“I’ve been here for five weeks. I’m missing my family, but this is the best place for me to train.
“I’m here with some of the fastest people in the world and it is a new experience.
“They have all been very friendly. There is no drama, I’m enjoying it.”
Jamaica has welcomed Chambers and he has been given use of an apartment in New Kingston where he can relax before he heads back to the track for evening sessions.
Since he’s been on the island he has adapted to a training system that has been designed as a finishing school for some of the world’s fastest athletes.
Chambers joined MVP, the acronym for Maximum Velocity Power, by invitation, working under the guidance of legendary Jamaican coach Stephen Francis.
The British spinter’s agent and lawyer Siza Agha will not confirm the financial impact, but it does not come cheap to rub shoulders with the world’s best.
Francis, a former accountant turned tubby athletics coach, is credited with the discovery of Powell, the 100m world record holder between 2005 and 2008 with times of 9.77sec and 9.74sec.
His brood train in cycles, with four weeks pushing their bodies to the limit before seven days spent in recovery.
“It’s all new to me, but it’s the chance to work with some of the very best athletes,” said Chambers.
This has been a recovery week for the MVP athletes, easing off as Chambers contemplates what happens next. He looks like a man preparing for a big date in the summer, rather than a 34-year-old easing off in the twilight of his career.
He looks the part, in the rhythm, running for MVP in the 4x100m relay team with Powell that finished second to Racers Track Club, led by 100m world record holder Usain Bolt, at the National Stadium on April 14.
In mid-May he will head to Puerto Rico for another meeting, this time in the 100m, as he prepares for a return to the Great Britain team.
Chambers has already made advancements, combating sickness as his body adjusted to the change of regime and admitting that it “had not been easy”.
He has encountered so much, with the mental torture troubling him throughout his two-year ban and subsequent attempts to lift the BOA’s bylaw. Here in Kingston, he pounds the 100m track with an awkward twitch; first to the right, then he looks left. A glance to the stand with the empty rows of steel seats that flap eerily in the wind off the Caribbean Sea.
Even the sound of thundering feet as another Jamaican speed machine powers round the bend seems to spook him.
Let’s not forget, his journey here has been a troubled one. He must be stalked by memories of Victor Conte, whose company Balco supplied him with the performance-enhancing drugs that led to his two-year ban from athletics in 2003. Or the moment this self-confessed ‘walking junkie’ feared he would be busted as he walked through customs at Miami International Airport 10 years ago.
Maybe a flashback to the moment a drugs tester turned up at his home in April 2002 and he somehow managed to convince the system he was clear of THG, EPO and a growth hormone.
MVP is a refuge, a safe haven for the most controversial British athlete in the history of the sport as he awaits the ruling that will allow him to compete at the Olympic Stadium.
“Dwain can train here for as long as he needs to,” said MVP president Bruce James.
“He has come to learn and he is getting used to a new way of training, but it will be good for him.
“It is not my business to say whether or not he can run for Great Britain at the Olympics, he is just working hard with MVP and Steven Francis.”
Chambers is clearly disciplined and focused, striding on to the surface in his adidas clothing and performing his own tailor-made warm-up.
It is a remarkable sight, these leading athletes going through complicated stretching routines lasting more than an hour before they will even consider slipping on their lightweight running spikes.
Chambers is looking sharper and perhaps hungrier than ever before, testing himself in three-quarter paced sprints with Powell and Carter. The theory is that even a fully fit Chambers would struggle to make the Olympic semi-finals, but he is driven to make an impact. He wants to go deep into the competition and run the fastest time since he was “clean”.
They are open sessions, with just a rusty old fence separating the athletes from anyone who makes their way down Mountain View Avenue first thing in the morning.
A few miles away, the security guards at the University of West Indies Bowl, the stadium where Usain Bolt works out, turn everyone away.
It is different at the foot of Long Mountain, with cheery hellos from smiling athletes who are used to the demands of the Jamaican public when it comes to competition.
They work primarily in isolation, laying out beach towels, turning up the iPod and, in the case of 100m hurdler Brigitte Foster-Hylton, drowning out the dawn chorus with her soulful tones.
Chambers has slipped into the routine, part of the MVP roll call each morning and answering his name again in the evening session.
Next week he expects to answer a call from his country. – Daily Mail