THE careers of four South African sprinters could have taken entirely different directions had it not been for a doping offender at the 1999 World Athletics Championships in Seville, Spain.
That's the view of Arnaud Malherbe, a member of South Africa's 4x400m relay team that finished fourth in the final, setting a national record of 3min:20sec.
Last year, Antonio Pettigrew, a member of the victorious US team, admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs.
And on Monday - almost 10 years after the race - Athletics South Africa (ASA) announced the South African quartet would be awarded the bronze medals for their performance in Seville at a ceremony, though a date has yet to be decided.
But joint South African 400m record-holder Malherbe believes his career and those of his teammates could have been far more lucrative had it not been for drug cheats.
Malherbe, Hendrik Mokganyetsi (who shares the South African record of 44.59 seconds with Malherbe), Jopie van Oudtshoorn and Adriaan Botha never experienced the glory associated with stepping on a podium at a global championship.
But Malherbe said what really bugs him is that drug cheats stunted his career.
"That year, I was ranked ninth in the world," Malherbe said yesterday. "Ahead of me in the rankings were four guys who later admitted to drug use, which means I would have been ranked fifth that year.
"The money would have made a big difference, but apart from that, the following year I might have been invited to every Golden League meeting and I would have been racing against guys like Michael Johnson every week.
"Maybe the SA record would be 43-something instead of 44-something now. It would have made a huge difference to all four of us and probably would have extended our careers."
But Malherbe, who commended ASA on organising the medals so soon after he and Mokganyetsi had suggested an investigation into the matter, isn't going to let it bother him. He is thrilled to finally get the only thing missing from his career. - Sapa