Chuckles were had at LaShawn Merritt’s expense during the World Athletics Championships in Daegu last month, shortly before he bagged a silver medal in the 400m and a gold in the relay.
But the outcome of a court case expected this week, with Merritt to the fore, could be more than a laughing matter.
That it could help Great Britain win two more Olympic medals in 2012 is almost a side-note to a debate that has already raged – forgive me – long and hard.
Merritt is the 2008 Olympic champion who subsequently tested positive for a banned steroid that, he admitted, was contained in a penile enhancement product called “ExtenZe”.
He was banned for 21 months, returning this summer to add to his collection of world medals, but is still fighting to take part in London 2012 because he is on the wrong side of an International Olympic Committee rule that bars any athlete who receives a doping sanction of six months or more from competing in the next Games.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne says it will make a ruling on the matter on Friday, if not before.
Separate to this rule is a British Olympic Association by-law that bans for life from Team GB any athlete who fails a doping test.
Christine Ohuruogu managed to have the rule over-turned in her case as the BOA believed her excuses for missing tests but sprinter Dwain Chambers had his appeal over-ruled in 2008 and cyclist David Millar has accepted he will not take part (and in a disarming interview last year told me he would like to attend 2012 as an anti-doping ambassador).
However, as a colleague who follows doping stories like these closely suggested recently, “[The] door will be hanging off hinges post-Merritt. Will only need gentle push!”
Pick apart the rights and wrongs of the ban as you will but should the BOA stick with a rule that prevents leading athletes from joining the team effort while rival nations are free to select who they will? We’re sure to find out in the next days and months.