From Threads to Riches

Story written by EPelle

Have you ever considered what it may be like to spiral down the totem poll?

Dwain Chambers and Justin Gatlin find themselves there at this very moment - and have actually for some time.

They were once enamored with praise, showered with money, and fed monstrous amounts of respect for being the quickest down a small piece of real estate, 100 metres to be exact.

Now, each has his sites set on performing in front of other crowds, for more money, and for a different type of esteem, namely that of being an NFL star.

Chambers was caught up in the BALCO affair, and accepted his two-year banishment from the sport in 2004. I caught up with him in Göteborg in August - his first major championship since his return this season, and had two very good conversations with him.

I like the guy. He's personable, he's funny, he's approachable, and he's shown an interest in not just continuing to explain the same old story he's told for the past 30 months, but to face the fact that people look at him differently than before.

Steroids talk didn't get old with Chambers when I brought up the subject in August after stopping him a second time for a quick photo along the service road between the warm-up track and Ullevi Stadium where the European Championships were taking place. I kept the focus off of his expulsion, and asked him questions about Gatlin and the entire drugs mess within athletics. He was honest about his situation - so honest, that he signed an autograph for a fan who stuck her program in front of him during our discussion with his name, and "9,96" under it. (Read further: Chambers comes clean)

"It is now," he said of his personal best, and chuckled.

Gatlin is traveling down a similar road.

He's been on top, over the top, and has fallen beyond the extended public grace extended for certain crimes of conscious. He's been busted for performance-enhancing drugs.

Friends and family have stood by his side since his inner circle decided to reveal the positive testosterone - or precursor - in July, but the public has grown faint and weary of another story of good guy turned bad through his own fault or not.

Gatlin, as is Chambers, is on the bottom of the list of influentials - those notable somebodies the rest of us had no business pretending to be. He was once perched so high up in his own postal code that the only person who was even in the neighbourhood was Asafa Powell - an athlete who had already occupied space there, and had twice tried kicking Gatlin off the block, so to speak.

Both athletes face their own athletics hurdles, though in the absense of the Gatlin verdict, it is noticeably Chambers who will have the easier ride should he continue to steer his athletics course.

Chambers faces a very formidable foe in having to repay the IAAF a substantial amount of prize money (thought to be £180,000) he collected while competing as a doped athlete - a period between the beginning of 2002 and his positive test in August 2003.

He was welcomed back to compete for England this year, and made waves at both the Super League and European Championships. He's taken some lumps, however, from teammates who have continued to express bitterness over losing out on the 2003 IAAF World Championships 4x100m silver medal.

He will never be allowed to participate in a future Olympic Games, and he will always carry with him a stigma as a cheat in other athletes' minds.

Gatlin has kept his athletics profile as low as it can go - nearly obsolete - as he has prepared his defense of his second positive drugs test in his career. You know the story well. He may (or not) gain a special circumstances exception to his drugs test, and it seems he has kept his options open to other earning potential - the NFL being the most lucrative opportunity should he find a suitor willing to take a gamble on a man who hasn't played the sport since high school.

Chambers and Gatlin are two men who have burned up the track, collected a share of high-value medals, and have either been world-record holders or in races where world-records were set. Chambers, oddly enough, was in the world-record race when Tim Montgomery ran 9,78 in Paris three years ago - a time which would later be annulled from the record books due to Montgomery's drugs use and connection to the same BALCO mess which snared Chambers.

It seems fitting that both athletes have turned over one leaf for the prospect of gaining attention and a roster spot in an even higher-profile sport, the NFL.

Gatlin has worked out for the Houston Texans and the Arizona Cardinals, though neither team has been thought to be considering him for service.

Gatlin may have to continue shopping his talents around, and perhaps hope his agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, can utilise any remaining influence he may have remaining in the sport he played from 1982 - 1984.

BBC Sport on Thursday, 2006-December-14 that Chambers had toughed it up, worked out hard, and showed a lot of determination in front of coaches at the NFL Europe training camp in Cologne, Germany, and may have considerably more opportunity as he is invited back to a second round of workouts.

If Chambers makes it through that he will join a six-week camp in Florida which could see him drafted to one of six teams: Amsterdam Admirals, Berlin Thunder, Cologne Centurions, Frankfurt Galaxy, Hamburg Sea Devils or Rhein Fire.

Whether they are here or there, going deep or slanting to the right, two grown men are at crossroads in their lives, and are entertaining sports which may give them excellent salaries, but much shorter careers.

Any career at this point in time would be longer than the prospect of waiting eight years to walk like an Olympian in Gatlin's case, and never again setting in the Olympic blocks for Chambers.

Though Chambers will never wear the Union Jack at an Olympic Games, UK Athletics Performance Director Dave Collins insists Chambers could still have an international athletics career.

Regardless of which paths they choose to take, I wish them both the utmost success as they climb back up the wooden pole to a place where they both feel comfortable with their free time activities. With any luck, Gatlin may get picked up as a reserve. Even better, I'd like to see him up and move to Europe where an NFL Europe game featuring two of the fastest sprinters in the league lay down historical receiving numbers which will only be exceeded by their next meeting. And next. And so forth.

That woman who snuck in that arm during my conversation should keep that autograph in a safe spot. Chambers may light it up on the field here in Europe, and the next time she sees us talking, she can stick the other arm in there and ask how fast Chambers can run a 40.

Alas, I can then say more positive things about that young man who took time to chat with a complete stranger about some very personal Fort Knox feelings and gave me some feel good stuff to hang out there on the internet.

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