AFTER TWO YEAR SUSPENSION, CEPLAK MAKES MODEST RETURN
By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
MARIBOR, Slovenia (28-Jul) -– It may not have been the kind of
performance she had become used to, but world indoor 800m record holder
Jolanda Ceplak was nonetheless content with her first outing after a
two-year drug suspension.
The 32-year-old Slovenian, who received a two-year ban from the sport
after testing positive for EPO in 2007, returned to competition in a
Slovenian Grand Prix meet in this northeastern city on Tuesday evening,
winning a low-key 800 in 2:07.13.
“I was nervous,” said Ceplak, who was welcomed with polite applause by
the largest crowd to ever gather at the city’s municipal athletics
stadium. “It wasn’t easy racing again after two years.”
Ceplak last raced in Lignano, Italy, on July 15, 2007, where she
clocked 1:59.86, but that victory, along with five other performances,
were expunged from the record books when her ban took effect. In a
series of interviews with Slovenian media in recent weeks, Ceplak has
maintained her innocence, denying that she had ever used the banned
blood booster which was discovered during an out-of-competition test
taken on June 18, 2007. Vowing to look ahead and continue her career,
she resumed serious training last October.
Competing in a four-woman field --two of the other three were local
juniors-- it was more of a time trial than a race for the former
European indoor and outdoor champion and 2004 Olympic bronze medallist,
who came up well short of the 2:04 target set by her coach Tomo
Popetru. Assisted by a pacesetter for the first lap, Ceplak reached
400m in 1:00.35, well shy of the 58.5 she had hoped for, but was glad
to get the race behind her.
“I just need some more races to really see where my fitness really is
at the moment,” Ceplak said, underscoring that achieving the world
championship "B" standard of 2:01.30 was never a target for this year.
“I need to have three or four races behindme to get a race rhythm back.
Ceplak said that her outings this weekend at the national championships
will be more indicative of her current shape. She’s entered in the 800
on Sunday, but might also race the 1500 on Saturday as well.
Her return to competition received heavy media coverage in this small
alpine nation of 2.1 million, where Ceplak remains one of the most
recognized female athletes. But much has changed during her absence. At
home her popularity has waned, her relatively lucrative sponsorships
have disappeared, and her current surroundings are now much more modest
than the apartment she briefly rented in Monte Carlo. Earlier this
month, she watched her national 1500m record fall when Sonja Roman, the
European indoor bronze medallist, clocked 4:02.13 at Rome’s Golden Gala.
And at 32, she doesn't expect to threaten her career best of 1:55.19
which dates back to the summer of 2002, and holds no illusions that
she’ll quickly rejoin her event’s upper echelon.
“I’m getting older, and the speed may not be there anymore for the 800, so I might focus more on the 1500.”
She is however hoping to be more competitive after the New Year, when
she returns to her “favorite” venues and competes indoors. Ceplak broke
the world indoor mark in the 800 at the 2002 European championships,
clocking 1:55.82. But with a ban on athletes who have tested positive
for doping by the Euromeetings group of organizers, albeit a
selectively enforced one, she may not be as welcome as she was at a
small stadium near her home last night.