Toilet jokes are hard to make when Justin Gatlins gold leaves a bad smell | Richard Williams

The contaminated straw that led a racehorse to fail a drugs test might raise a smile but events at the world athletics in London are no laughing matter

If there was a lighter side to a week in which doping dominated the sports headlines, it came in the discovery of O-desmethyltramadol in a sample taken from a horse called Wotadoll. Sitting in judgment, the British Horseracing Authoritys disciplinary committee accepted the explanation that the metabolite of the opioid tramadol detected after the three-year-old bay filly finished unplaced at Wolverhampton could be sourced to the urine of a groom who peed in the horses box after taking the medication for pain relief.

The Racing Post called it an embarrassing leak but peeing in a horses straw is apparently a common practice among Britains incontinent stable lads when they are supposed to be mucking out. The horses trainer, Dean Ivory, was fined 750. Later he announced his staff will be reminded of the proximity of the toilet block and, just to be on the safe side, encouraged to wear gloves.

There was also a four-legged animal involved in the announcement of Alberto Contadors retirement: the creature from which, according to the multiple winner of cyclings grand tours, a piece of meat had been taken and carried from Spain by a friend to provide him with a nourishing steak dinner during the 2010 Tour de France. Contadors explanation of the clenbuterol found by drug testers failed to avert a two-year suspension and an expunged third victory in the worlds biggest bike race. Some admirers of his attacking style wanted to give the Spaniard the benefit of the doubt but his departure will sever another link with the era of Operacin Puerto.

We ought to be beyond the stage of giggling at claims of cocaine traces picked up by a tennis player through kissing a girl in a Miami nightclub (Richard Gasquet in 2009, who was cleared of all charges by the court of arbitration for sport) or too much sex on his wifes birthday producing an unnaturally elevated level of testosterone in a sprinter (Dennis Mitchell in 1998). It was certainly easier to keep a straight face while reading about the two-month suspension handed this week to Sara Errani, formerly the worlds No5 female tennis player. A test had revealed traces of letrozole, a drug used to treat her mothers breast cancer and apparently picked up from a kitchen work surface.

But neither laughter nor compassion seemed an appropriate response to the soap opera of the mens 100m final in the world championships last weekend, when the two-time drugs cheat Justin Gatlin helped deprive Usain Bolt of a golden farewell to the event in which the Jamaican is a triple Olympic champion. That is because there is no appropriate single response. Gatlins case is an awkward one, exposing the layers of moral complexity that can defeat the human urge to make a clean separation between right and wrong.

Gatlins first offence, at the age of 19, was for traces of amphetamine, said to have been given to him since childhood as part of a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Non-medical people might be surprised to find amphetamine used as a remedy for ADHD but that is apparently the reality of it and the authorities reinstated him halfway through a two-year suspension, while warning that any further offence would trigger a life ban. But by the time he was pinged for testosterone in 2006, while being coached by the notorious Trevor Graham, the rules had changed and he was given an eight-year ban which his lawyers succeeded in getting halved on appeal. So now we have Bolt retiring when clearly past his best at 30 and Gatlin who is currently coached by none other than Mitchell running faster than anyone at 35.

An hour or so before Gatlin celebrated his victory by raising an admonitory finger to his lips in response to the London crowds boos, Almaz Ayana had surged away from her rivals with a solo attack a mere 4km into the womens 10,000m final. The Ethiopian ran the next 3km at a speed that would have won all but one of the womens 3,000m races run throughout the world this year. The last 3km were barely any slower. To anyone not taking that into consideration it was a beautiful sight like watching Michael Johnson in Atlanta in 1996, for instance. Such unanswerable dominance always takes the breath away until, as with Ayana, one is reminded of what it may mean.

Those who had read Martha Kelners investigation into drug testing in Ethiopian athletics or rather the inefficiency of it in these pages that very morning may have been rather less starry-eyed. They may even have wondered if this was a clear demonstration of the old maxim that, if something looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Ayana, of course, has previously declared herself crystal clear when answering inevitable questions in post-race press conferences. Only Jesus and training, she said, were responsible for her success.

And then there is Icarus, the documentary about the Russian governments involvement in doping made available on Netflix and given a limited cinema release in this of all weeks. Bryan Fogels two-hour film starts small, with an experiment to see if he can improve his own performance as a competitive amateur cyclist through following the full Lance Armstrong menu of performance-enhancing drugs. But his encounter with Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran Russias anti-doping lab while simultaneously helping the countrys athletes to give it the swerve, leads him down another path, one that exposes the biggest state-run PED programme since the Berlin Wall came down.

The film traces a line from Rodchenkov and his colleagues through Vitaly Mutko, then the countrys sports minister and now its deputy prime minister, all the way to Vladimir Putin, who has used sport to help build his image as the embodiment of a newly virile Russia. The all-shootin, all-fishin, all-ridin Putin flashes his pecs at the world to emphasise that dominance whether of an Olympic podium or in the annexation of neighbouring territory is his nations natural and rightful characteristic.

The fact that Rodchenkov and his fellow whistle-blowers Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov are in a US witness-protection programme illustrates the scale and gravity of the problem for sport. We are not in Iffley Road now, watching a medical student and his chums achieve immortality. We are in the world of strong-arm geopolitics, where people can be made to fear for their lives.

As it turned out, all the EPO and testosterone in the world could not make Fogel into a great bike racer. In fact they made him worse. In any other film that might have raised a laugh but not in this film, not in this week, not in this world.

Read more:

Sara Errani banned for two months over cancer drug positive test

Sara Errani, a former world No5, said she was extremely disappointed after being banned for two months after failing a doping test

The former world No5 Sara Errani has been banned for two months after failing a doping test. The 30-year-old Italian, a French Open finalist in 2012, tested positive for the cancer treatment drug letrozole, which can increase body mass, in February.

An independent tribunal set up by the International Tennis Federation accepted Erranis explanation she must have accidentally ingested drugs being used by her mother to treat breast cancer through contaminated food.

It was deemed a suspension was still necessary as Errani could have done more to prevent this happening but the maximum punishment of a two-year ban for an accidental violation of this type was considered excessive.

Following a hearing last month a suspension was imposed from 3 August and she will be eligible to compete again on 3 October.

All her results from the date of her positive out-of-competition test on 16 February until a negative test on 7 June have been annulled. All ranking points and prize money accrued in this period have had to be forfeited.

Errani, who is ranked 98 in the world, said in a statement released on Twitter: I feel very frustrated but I can only try to stand still and wait for this period to finish.

I am extremely disappointed but at the same time at peace with my conscience and aware I havent done anything wrong, neither have I committed any negligence against the anti-doping program.

Errani based her case for mitigation on the fact she had been visiting her parents shortly before her positive test. Her mother, who has suffered from breast cancer, stored her drugs close to an area used to prepare food. Contamination was possible because there had been times when pills had been dropped or spilled.

There is also no evidence letrozole would enhance the performance of an elite tennis player. It was banned because of World Anti-Doping Agency concerns it was being abused by bodybuilders.

Read more:

Experience: I didnt know I was being doped

When I was 16 I told an official that I wanted to quit skating for East Germany. He was really angry and called me a traitor to the fatherland. That broke me

I started ice skating in 1975, when I was four and a half and growing up in Berlin. It was fun in the beginning, but soon after I started school, things got serious, and my childhood took a back seat as my parents pushed me to excel. I trained six to eight hours a day.

After two years, I was given vitamins by my trainers, all kinds of pills and powders. We had to take them on the ice, in front of everyone. We had not been raised to think critically, so many of us never dared ask what they were. We just thought, this will help me win. I didnt feel any immediate effects and had no idea they were drugs. I later discovered that East Germanys communist party had issued a secret directive in 1974, declaring that all team sports would be subject to doping. Unsurprisingly, East Germany managed to win 572 medals at the winter and summer Olympics in its 41 years in existence.

When I was 16, I went to see one of the sports officials to tell him I wanted to quit: I wanted to live a normal life. He became angry and called me a traitor to the fatherland. That broke me: thats one of the worst things you could call someone in a dictatorship. I started crying profusely, but he didnt care. He said, You will go right back out there and continue training, which I did.

I skated competitively until I was 17. I was crowned East German champion twice and came third in the 1987 European Figure Skating Championships in Sarajevo, but I cant bring myself to be proud of my achievements. Injury forced me to stop: after 14 years of professional sport, I had had two knee operations and my back was badly damaged.

In 1997, I got a letter from the state police in Thuringia, revealing that I had been part of a nationwide forced doping programme. I was shocked and couldnt believe there had been such an abuse of power. Four years later, when I was 30 and working at a magazine, I began to show symptoms of a psychotic breakdown, which eventually cost me my job. It manifested in sensitivity to sounds: I felt as if the trains passing by were racing right through me. Then came paranoia: I was suspicious of people all the time. I started to imagine that the former secret police, and then the Nazis, were stalking me.

I saw a psychiatrist, who eventually convinced me I needed medication. The doctors gave me psychotropic drugs to pull me out of it, and told me that my episode was the direct result of a steroid, Oral-Turinabol, I had been given as a professional skater. I felt betrayed.

My chronic illness was a constant reminder. Between 2001 and 2006, I was unable to work because of my repeated psychotic episodes. I broke off all contact with my former trainers and team-mates, and eventually sought counselling, which really helped. I am still on medication and have been stable since 2006. I now work at an NGO that offers counselling to survivors of forced doping. While undeniable links to side-effects have been hard to prove, many of our clients come to us with liver and heart damage. Some have tumours; 70% have psychological problems; among women, there is a lot of breast cancer and infertility.

In 2000, the state brought charges against Dr Manfred Hppner and Manfred Ewald, leaders in the East German sports fraternity. They were found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm to about 10,000 sports people affected by doping, and were given a suspended sentence. They should have gone to prison. The state gave those who were worst affected (194 people) a one-off compensation of 10,500 each. I was one of them. Most of us spent it on our continuing medical expenses; others took their first holiday in a long time. Although the money was nice to have, what was more important was the acknowledgment of the injustice done to us. East Germanys nationwide doping was a crime.

Now, at 45, I can see that it didnt only rob us of our childhoods, it also caused terrible harm to our health. Even watching this years Olympics, I realise that we as a society havent learned anything. Its all about winning, at any cost.

As told to TL Andrews

Do you have an experience to share? Email

Read more: