Sunday, June 28, 2009

Race Against Me: My Story by Dwain Chambers

A review by Mimitig

Over the years of this blogspace’s existence, there has been coverage of football (lots), cricket, motorsport and cycling (quite a lot), rowing (a little bit), very strange sports and occasionally other things.

Book reviews are not our forte.

However, I think there is a reason to focus our attention on a book about a sport we don’t usually cover.

The book is Dwain Chambers’s autobiography, the sport is track athletics and the reason is drugs.

I am not a great fan of athletics – the only time I get enthused is during the Olympics but only someone who throws away the front pages of the newspapers and never listens to news could have avoided hearing about the furore that surrounded Dwain Chambers’s positive drug test and the subsequent battles he has fought to be allowed to compete again.

One of my favourite sports (track cycling) is horribly blighted by drug-cheats and when I heard that Dwain Chambers was going to spill all the beans in his book, I just had to read it.

Everyone has known, since the days of the East Germans, that doping was part of athletics, but until Dwain got caught, cycling has copped all the shit. This, I thought, was a chance to get some inside info into the dirty doings in another sport.

Now, I heard many interviews with Chambers after the publication of this book and he came across as a very arrogant, unpleasant and self-serving person. I didn’t like him at all. Yeah, I thought, you did the drugs, got caught and now trying to justify it.

The first pages of the book did little to change my view. One of his ghost-writers is a chap called Ken Scott. If I’d Googled Scott before I read his preface, I might have been more forgiving of the fact he (while trying to describe the art of sledging) spelled Glenn McGrath’s name wrong. Four times. A Newcastle fan – need I say more?

Anyway, I plunged into the body of the text, trying to rid myself of the ghostwriter who couldn’t be bothered to get a world famous name right and the editor, copy editor and proof reader (forget checking a name but who ever heard of a drug called “heroine”?) who compounded that error, and to my surprise I found myself gripped.

There is no doubt this is a badly-written and horrendously-produced book and - at £18.99 for the hardback - is something any publisher should be ashamed of, but the information inside is both fascinating and incendiary.

Chambers does not write well, and his ghostwriters did nothing for his prose, but he has opened what should be a very large can of worms.

He lays out, in painful, very painful, detail his drugging diaries and how his body reacted. He also makes it clear that he was only one of many. Notes give details of other athletes involved with BALCO including US medal winners Kelli White and Chryste Gaines.

It is not hard to understand how Chambers felt the only way to compete on equal terms was to join Victor Contes’s crew.

While all this is sort of in the public domain, what is most interesting about this book is the way the British Sporting Establishment has reacted to Dwain Chambers, his book and his personal statements to some of the hi-di-his such as Colin Moynihan.

The Establishment has been prepared to accept other “Drug Cheats” back into the fold. Carl Myerscough is a prime example, but they have treated Dwain Chambers with a disdain and unfairness that is out of all previous behaviour. He got caught, he served his ban, but is still, and has been for four years after, been treated as an evil pariah.

This is despite Chambers fully cooperating with investigations, passed on to WADA and UK Athletics and the Olympic authorities, all the information he had about drug-taking in athletics.

The treatment Chambers received, not just from his own sport but also the public and the press, is at odds with the way a certain David Millar was treated makes me wonder whether Chambers is right when he writes:

“It is clear as bottled water that something or someone higher up the chain is out to stop me. They are trying to stop me competing, stop me earning a living and of course trying to prevent me from attending the Olympics in 2012.”

This book, in conclusion, is a must read. It’s badly written, professionally everything about it is horrid – don’t get me started on the spacing and punctuation errors – but the content is worth the crap.

And one of the amazing things about it, is that you know, as you read, that Chambers could crap so heavily on so many other people, but he doesn’t. My opinion of the man changed.

12 comments:

Mac Millings said...

Mimi,

Great stuff.

If it had been me reading the book, I probably wouldn't have been able to get past the shoddiness you describe, but you were, and in doing so, have caused me to sympathise with Chambers, even though I know little of him (I've followed the story a bit online, but he's hardly a household name here in the US - mind you, neither are any US athletes except Carl Lewis and...well, that's about it. If you're not a track Olympic gold medallist, you haven't a prayer - unless you're a drug cheat, so everyone knows of Marion Jones.)

You'll be pleased to hear that cycling doesn't bear the brunt of people's anger regarding performance enhancing drugs here - that honour goes to baseball, which leads me to think that American Football is getting off lightly. For now.

offsideintahiti said...

In (distorted) echo to Mac Millings Lendl piece below, how much is Chambers paying for his gangsta looks?

guitou said...

More confessions of a junkie or a story written by a junkie about other junkies have a jeopardy side effect on me because I feel persecuted twice by the same offense- These guys cheat, then make money for cheating by writting a book.Besides the hypocrisy associated with the steroid controversy is pathetic because people who want to rule performances enhancing drugs, the politicians, are professional cheatersthemselves-So I get depressed to the point that only pakalolo and plenty of pili pili pills can save the day , that's what the doctor said anyway......isn'it a vicious circle?

MotM said...

Not sure I could stomach a whole book on Chambers - but I'm glad you did Mimi as I enjoyed the review.

mimi said...

Before anyone accuses me of pot/kettle calling, I have just seen some howlers in this and my only excuse is that it's far harder to proof your own work than that of others!

Interesting comment Mac - I hadn't realised that US athletes were hardly known in the US, or that baseball was more riddled with drug cheats than road cycling.

Gui - I know what you mean, but Chambers has had to pay back all winnings and sponsorship money and anything he makes from the book goes to his creditors. Doesn't make it right, but it does make it true that cheats don't prosper (in this case at least).

Ebren said...

Eeek- really? That refplects pretty badly on the edotor too...

guitou said...

Mimi,
I am affraid Offie is having a bad influence on Ebren....it's only 5.12pm in London;

Ebren said...

Sun well past the yard arm - I shall defend my choices until the death. Which my choices will probably make sooner rather than later.

mimi said...

Am off to Orkney in a few days time where, at the moment, it never gets dark. Does that mean the sun is never over the yard-arm? Won't be much of a holiday if that's the case!

Hic Greengrass said...

mimi,
fear not: the Orkneys gets about as dark as the part of Sweden wot I resides in, and folk sup like buggery here.

mimi said...

Cheers GG. I'm hoping for less gulls too.

It's a nightmare or whatever you call what it is when you can't get any decent sleep cos of the effing herring gulls screaming from 3 am til 2 am.

Yep there's just one hour when the buggers sleep.

Rooto said...

Nicely done mimi. Perhaps one of us should read Laurent Fignon's new autobiography which 'comes out' about the drugs he took in the peloton - but about 25 years too late. I think it's called "We were young and carefree" in English, but hopefully the rest of the book will be better translated!
I think I must have chucked away the recent copy of l'Equipe in which they interviewed him, but what stuck in my mind was that he said it wasn't systematic doping, they "didn't feel as if they were cheating", and that the greater systematisation (does that word exist) of doping in the early 90s made him feel as if his time was over, and pushed him into retirement. He also made some 'not-quite-allegations' about Indurain. If I have time, what with babies and work and le Tour (coming through Nice tomorrow - yes!), I'll get a copy.

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