Jamaica's leader on Tuesday called for the sprinting powerhouse's athletes to be far more vigilant about any supplements they take in the wake of revelations that two of the island's marquee sprinters and three others tested positive for banned substances at a meet last month.
In a Tuesday speech in Jamaica's Parliament, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller stressed that the sprinting powerhouse stands by its athletes but "as a country we reiterate the importance of integrity in sports, fair play and the maintenance of a doping-free sporting environment."
Former 100-metre world-record holder Asafa Powell and Olympic medallist Sherone Simpson tested positive for the stimulant oxilofrone at the island's national championships in June. Their agent, Paul Doyle, who told The Associated Press about the two track stars' positive "A" tests on Sunday, says he suspects that their newly hired trainer might have given them supplements laced with a banned substance.
Italian police confiscated unidentified substances in a Monday raid on the hotel where the two sprinters and the physical trainer Christopher Xuereb of Toronto were staying and preparing for a meet in the northeast town of Lignano Sabbiadoro. They were formally placed under criminal investigation for allegedly violating Italy's doping laws.
National discus champ Allison Randall and two other athletes also tested positive for a banned substance at the same June meet in Jamaica.
So far, only one of the five athletes has requested testing of backup samples, Simpson Miller said. They have until Friday to make this request.
The five doping positives come a month after another revered Olympic champion, Veronica Campbell-Brown, tested positive for a banned diuretic. Like the others, she expressed shock at the test results and says she is determined to clear her name.
The blow of all the recent allegations has staggered many people in Jamaica, where global domination in sprinting is a huge source of national pride. Some have criticized the prime minister for not addressing the matter publicly earlier.
On Tuesday, Simpson Miller said Jamaican athletes "need to be far more vigilant," saying the "issue of supplement is one that we implore our athletes to be careful about." The government intends to start high school-level doping test after consultation with parents, education officials and others, she said.
The local anti-doping commission has conducted 86 doping tests since 2009, including 504 in-competition tests, according to the prime minister. She said there have been 16 adverse findings among Jamaican athletes over that time.
She asserted Jamaica's anti-doping commission had a rigorous program, noting that the recent positive tests were all found by the Jamaican agency.
Many islanders appear willing to give the athletes who delivered the positive tests the benefit of the doubt.
In a central Kingston square, office assistant Dawn Richards said she was waiting for more facts. But she said the swirling allegations were giving her a "very uneasy feeling."
"They are saying they don't know how this drug got in their systems so I think we have to believe them right now. I really hope what they're saying is true," she said by a corner taxi stand.
Track fan Richard Morgan said Powell's positive test in particular would be a "real shame" if it was intentional since he was the athlete who put the tropical island on centre stage in the 21st century.
The soft-spoken Powell has been a major local hero since 2005 when he broke the world record in the 100 metres by sprinting the distance in 9.77 seconds — shaving one hundredth of a second off the previous record. Since then, he's always showed promise to take a global title before disappointing at the event itself. He's struggled with a groin injury for years.
But Olivia Grange, the opposition's sports spokeswoman, called on Jamaica not to lost faith in their athletes, asserting that people should not jump to conclusions since "there is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip."
But Karl Samuda, another opposition lawmaker, said the island's brand has been rocked by news of the positive tests. "That certain knowledge that we are the best has been damaged," he said Tuesday in Jamaica's Parliament.