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(Reuters) - Veronica Campbell-Brown, the first lady of Jamaican sprinting, believes she will run faster than ever after enduring an ordeal she trusts no other athlete will have to suffer.
The triple Olympic champion turned 33 last week but said her “best days are still ahead” now she has recovered from the traumatic episode which saw her pilloried as a drugs cheat before she was cleared of a potentially career-ending doping offense.
“It was very unfair and I hope no athlete will ever go through what I went through,” Campbell-Brown reflected in an interview with Reuters after starting her 2015 campaign in impressive form in China.
“It’s tough, especially when you know you’re innocent and your name has been dragged through the mud and people who had no clue were speaking evil stuff.
“But people go to jail for crimes they didn’t commit. It’s part of life and I take my inspiration from those who have suffered at the hands of wickedness.”
Campbell-Brown received a two-year ban after testing positive for a banned diuretic in 2013 and says she went through an emotionally and financially crippling experience as she fought to clear her name.
She even took and passed a lie detector test while her name was being smeared before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) finally exonerated her last Spring.
CAS noted the blatant flaws in the collection procedures and possible "environmental contamination" of her urine sample because of “deplorable” mistakes by Jamaican athletics and anti-doping officials.
While a nation which has always believed in their “VCB” celebrated, Campbell-Brown knows how some mud can always stick.
“Life is challenging at times, it was rough and even to this day, I really don’t know what happened but one thing I can say for sure is that I’ve never used drugs in my career. I’ve been clean and honest all my life,” she said.
“A lot of people may speculate or insinuate, they can say what they want to say, but the bottom line is as long as my conscience is clear and me, my family, my friends and God knows the truth, then I don’t care what people say.”
The fall-out from the case, she said, did set her back last season when she looked a shadow of the woman who has garnered seven Olympic and nine world championship medals. The suspicion then was that maybe after such a traumatic interruption to her career and in her thirties, her career could be in terminal decline.
Yet Campbell-Brown, who says she thinks she will still be around to challenge at the 2017 world championships in London, insisted: “I do believe age is just a number and that my best days are ahead of me.”
She said, for instance, that she had “never put a really good 100 meters together” -- astonishing, considering that she won a world title in the event in 2007 -- and that she felt she could surpass her four-year-old best of 10.76 seconds.
As for her 200m, she looked good flying round Beijing’s Bird’s Nest in 22.68 last week, seven years since she landed the second of her two Olympic half-lap titles there.
In August, she intends to be back on that track at the world championships and she pointed out that the record number of Olympic medals won by any woman track and field athlete is nine, by her compatriot and friend Merlene Ottey. So three more in the 100m, 200m and relay in Rio de Janeiro next year would give her 10.
There is an indomitable quality about VCB. One thing that upset her most about the drugs slurs was that her Foundation, which she created to provide scholarships and mentoring programs for high school girls in Jamaica, suffered financially. “I still want to inspire young women,” she said.
She also wants her ailing sport to inspire again. “There are so many great athletes out there and we have to uplift and better promote them all,” she said. And that means not just her old Trelawny neighbor, a certain Usain Bolt.
“Well, Usain is great, Usain is well-loved, he’s energetic, he’s fun and he’s been doing a good job carrying the sport. But I do believe he could do with some help. If the burden is not only his, it will help promote and push the sport.
“As a sport, we have to regain trust at all levels so we can get the support we need. There’s too much negativity, finger-pointing and cynicism that is stopping us progress. I don't know how we do it but we’ve got to go out, work hard and compete hard and clean. That’s what I’ve always done.”
editing by Justin Palmer