Fagan faces ban after failing drugs test

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ATHLETICS:WITH A quite dreadful sense of timing, Athletics Ireland is braced for another doping scandal in Olympic year – and the inevitable repercussions that come with it.

Although the exact details of Martin Fagan’s “adverse analytical finding” have yet to be disclosed, what is certain is that he has a serious case to answer, is facing a two-year ban, and can kiss goodbye to his aspirations of qualifying for the London Olympic marathon.

All indications last night were that Fagan was caught using the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin – better known as EPO, and one of the most common, although largely out-dated, methods of performance enhancing.

With echoes of the Cathal Lombard scandal that rocked Irish athletics just before the Athens Olympics in 2004, Fagan tested positive for EPO in an out-of-competition test.

There is, however, due procedure to follow, and Fagan is set to appear before an adjudication hearing in Dublin on Monday to explain why the traces of EPO were found in the A-sample of an out-of-competition doping test taken at his US training base in December; he may yet request the testing of the B-sample, although the outcome already appears inevitable.

Lombard tested positive for EPO shortly before the Athens Olympics, having made some fairly sensational breakthroughs the year before, and later admitted to purchasing and self-administering the EPO, and was thus handed the mandatory two-year ban.

Fagan has always been regarded a highly talented but somewhat unfortunate runner – mainly with injuries and illness, but also perhaps with some of his direction in the sport: indeed his career to date has been a model of inconsistency, not helped by a series of debilitating injuries.

After a successful junior career in his native Mullingar, Fagan followed the American scholarship route and attended Providence College, in Rhode Island, where he was coached by Ray Treacy, brother of John Treacy.

He enjoyed a relatively successful collegiate career in the US, finishing second in the NCAA 10,000 metres in 2006; he was also Irish 5,000m champion in 2008 and in 2009 ran a 10,000m best of 27:58.48.

Inevitably, he was drawn to the marathon, and after graduating in 2007, he moved to Flagstaff in Arizona to train under American coach Greg McMillan (although he left that group in 2010).

Ill-luck hit him early on when in December 2007 he was refused re-entry into the US, due to an outdated visa, after competing at the European Cross Country Championships in Spain (where he finished a fine seventh).

His big breakthrough came in Dubai in January 2008 – almost exactly four years ago – when he clocked 2:14.06, inside the necessary 2:15 to qualify for the Beijing Olympics – and still the 14th fastest Irish marathon of all-time.

With that he became Ireland’s sole men’s Olympic marathon representative in Beijing in 2008.

However, he was once again struck down by bad luck when an Achilles tendon injury forced him to drop out of the Olympic marathon a little after halfway.

In March 2009, Fagan broke the Irish half-marathon record in The Netherlands, running 60 minutes, 57 seconds to better the 21-year- old national record of 61:00 previously held by John Treacy.

That was the highlight of the last four years, although at age 28 he should have been coming into his prime.

He was on the verge of another breakthrough as recently as last October, when he ran the Chicago marathon.

In what was a very definite tale of so near and yet so for, Fagan was well on course to run under the 2:15.00 that would have booked his place in London, but was forced to drop out with just over a mile of the race to go due to “heat issues”.

Next up was to be tomorrow’s Houston marathon, but Fagan has now encountered a different sort of wall, and one which he might never get over.

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