Nirmala, four others test positive

Nirmala Sheoran has tested positive for a banned substance. AFP

Nirmala Sheoran, the Asian champion in the women’s 400 metres, and four other athletes have tested positive for prohibited substances, as a fresh wave of doping scandal hit Indian sport.

Among the four others, it is learnt two are women middle-long distance runners, one is a woman discus thrower and the other a male shot-putter. 

After Asian champion shot-putter Manpreet Kaur, who tested positive last year, Nirmala is the biggest Indian athlete to fall in the dope net. 

The 23-year-old Nirmala won the gold at the Asian Championships in Bhubaneshwar last year and was also part of the 4x400 relay gold-medal winning team. She has been in news for her prolonged absence from the national camp after the World Championships last year. She even missed the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast earlier this year. Even the Athletics Federation of India had declared her ‘untraceable’. She, however, attributed her absence to “personal problems”.

The Haryana athlete, however, surprised all by surfacing in June at the National Inter-State championships that formed the selection trials for the Asian Games in Jakarta. Nirmala booked her Asiad berth in the individual 400m by finishing second to Hima Das in the Guwahati championships. She clocked an impressive personal best timing of 51.25s in the 400m final. At the Asian Games, Nirmala finished fourth with a timing of 52.96 seconds.

After the Asian Games, Nirmala had again gone missing and didn’t report for the national camp underway at Patiala since October 10. This despite AFI making it mandatory for all the Indian athletes to attend the national camps to be considered eligible for selection for major international meets.

Nirmala though has been a serial offender. In 2016 and 2017, she had suddenly appeared for the selection trials and comfortably attained the standards, first for Rio Olympics and then for the World Championships in London. She clocked 51.48 in the Inter-State meet at Hyderabad in the Olympic year, and 51.28 in the Fed Cup at Patiala last year, in the 400m. She was eliminated in the opening round in Rio and made the semifinals in London. 

The case of Nirmala also raised the question whether the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has tested her during her period of absence despite she being named in its Registered Testing Pool (RTP) last November. Being in the RTP, Nirmala is required to provide her “whereabouts” to NADA on a quarterly basis and make herself available for testing at a pre-designated venue at least for one hour every day as long as she remains in the pool.

It is learnt that Nirmala and the other four athletes tested positive in re-tests of their samples done in a laboratory abroad as directed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It was not immediately known when and where the samples were collected and which was the testing agency.

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