THERE was a perverse irony about this year's closest encounter between Scotland's Kathy Butler and the demonised Olga Yegorova, whose positive drugs reading provoked scandal when she was allowed to run at the world athletics championships in Edmonton.
Having shown positive for the blood-boosting agent erythropoietin in tests conducted by a Paris lab, the Russian escaped suspension because procedures were improperly observed. Her presence in the world 5000m final kept Butler out, and Scotland's highest ranked international runner was left demonstrating in the stands. Yet since then, the pair have shared the medal podium at the Goodwill Games in Brisbane, and the doping control room afterwards.
There was the prospect of yet another confrontation tomorrow, at the European Cross-country Championships in Thun, Switzerland. Butler is one of three Scots in action for Great Britain, but Yegorova was not in the Russian squad listed yesterday.
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There was no evidence of goodwill after Yegorova had won the 5000m title in Australia, with Butler third. ''I feel very uncomfortable around her, for she makes me mad,'' said Kathy. ''I don't know how good her English is, and haven't bothered to find out. I did not clap her on the podium, and certainly don't recall shaking hands with her. We were in doping control together, briefly. I was going out when she came in. Normally I'd sit and chat with the other girls.
''For her to have been proven by the French laboratory to be cheating, and to have kept me out of the world final is frustrating. I run well and get personal bests while she is earning nice appearance fees and prize-money. Of course it angers me.
''It's hard to say epo is rife, because there aren't the convictions, but depending on what evidence you look at, like suddenly-improved times, it's out there. They finished in front of me in several Golden League races.''
League prize-money is $15,000 for a win, down to $1500 for eighth. Butler, who reached the world indoor 3000m final during the year, and won the European Cup title at the distance, contested three Golden League grands prix, finishing thirteenth, tenth, and tenth. ''I don't run for the money, but every little helps. It keeps the stress off, but I don't doubt that cheats have beaten me.''
Despite its frustrations, the past year has been good to Butler. ''After four-and-a-half years I've managed to raise the down payment for a house in Wisconsin,'' she says. ''I moved in two weeks ago. It means I don't have to rent any more when I come to work with my coach.''
She has joined Paula Radcliffe in wearing a red ribbon on her vest, indicating willingness to be blood-tested at any time. She reckons genetically-engineered blood-doping is science fiction, ''probably still a long way away, but we have to keep up testing, and stop the cheats. Epo is not even being tested for randomly at the moment. It will be better when epo tests are done unannounced''.
Scotland has no better track medal hope for next year's Manchester Commonwealth Games than the 28-year-old who competed for Canada for a decade. She ranked sixth in the Commonwealth at 10,000m, and twelfth at 5000m this year, but sixth and eighth if you restrict each nation to three per event (ie Kenya has seven 5000m runners faster than Butler, but only three may run in Manchester). No other Scot ranks higher.
From 1990 (fifty-ninth in the world junior cross-country) to 1999 (fourth in the world cross), she ran every year for Canada, including the 1996 Olympics and 1998 Commonwealths, but she has no identity crisis. ''I am Scottish, so it will be great to pull on a dark blue vest, especially at a Commonwealth Games in Britain,'' she said.
She favours the 5000m, yet her best 10,000m is less than three seconds slower than Yvonne Murray's gold medal Commonwealth 10,000m time in 1994. She was fifth in the Goodwill Games 10k, just three days after the 5000m, even though she was by then suffering from a cold.
''I'll see how the winter goes, but probably I'll try a 10k or two next year. If the 10,000 comes along nicely, I might try the 5000 at the Commonwealths and the 10,000 at the Europeans.''
Butler was fifth in last year's European Cross-country Championships, leading the UK to team silver without Radcliffe. ''I'm in good shape, but have had only one road race so far. My winter is is geared more to the world cross-country, but we have a strong team this weekend. A medal. No reason why not, but gold? That really depends who shows up among these Russians . . .''
Also in the UK team tomorrow are juniors Andrew Lemoncello (Fife) and Freya Murray (Edinburgh Woollen Mill), both of whom have a successful international hill-running background for Scotland. Lemoncello was Great Britain's fastest junior steeplechaser this summer and Bank of Scotland Young athlete of the year. Murray, who won eight Scottish Schools track and cross-country titles, makes her GB debut.
Kathy Butler factfile
Born October 22, 1973, Edinburgh, where she lived until age of 10
Family emigrated to Canada Degree in sports science from University of Wisconsin
1993 100th at World Cross-country
1994 Graves Disease setback
1999 fourth in world cross for Canada
2000 Scottish 1500m title. Personal bests 1500m 4:07.68. 3000m 8:40.97. 5000m 15:10.69. 10,000m 31:59.27