Liza Hunter-Galvan is a shock entry in this Sunday's Christchurch marathon – and not everyone is happy.
Just days after completing her two-year ban for using EPO, the United States-based Hunter-Galvan has chosen the Christchurch event as the beginning of her road back to redemption.
Her entry has been met with swift opposition from Wellington's Gabrielle O'Rourke, who holds two national titles and ran 10th in the 1993 Boston Marathon.
O'Rourke, who is running the half-marathon in Christchurch, says a group of runners find Hunter-Galvan's entry "too raw".
"I don't feel that comfortable standing on the start line," O'Rourke said.
"But I have to get over that and I know a few of the others are feeling the same way. A few of us showed her support and we feel like we have been slapped in the face."
O'Rourke wrote a letter to the New Zealand Olympic Committee in 2004 pushing for Hunter-Galvan to be selected for the Olympic Games in Athens.
When the positive drug test blew up in 2009, she felt let down. "I'm glad I am not in the same event [on Sunday]," O'Rourke said, though the full and half-marathon races start at the same time.
"Last night I had issues with `if I was in the same event, would I run it, possibly not, I would possibly change events'.
"She has every right to run but for me it puts a mark against the race.
"It is too soon. It doesn't seem like two years ago we were so disappointed."
Hunter-Galvan is believed to be visiting friends in Auckland but could not be contacted last night.
Shortly before her suspension expired a few days ago, she sent marathon organisers an email asking if they would accept her late entry.
"Pheww, (sic) appreciate your reply and acceptance, it means a great deal.
"I don't know that I will ever train/run like I used to. My perspective is not what it was. I am running for me now and anything I do will be good enough for me."
In an earlier email to race organisers, she said: "I am heading to NZ next week and thought I may give Christchurch a shot. I can't imagine a better place to `rebuild'. Any chance you still have an elite assistance programme and the offer still stands for me?"
Athletics New Zealand chief executive Scott Newman and race director Chris Cox both said they were comfortable with the 41-year-old mother-of-four returning to racing in New Zealand.
"She's fine, she has served her time and served her punishment so like any member of the public she is free to run," Newman said. "I'm very comfortable – she can do as she pleases now that she has has served her punishment."
Cox said Hunter-Galvan added further interest to a race set against the backdrop of the devastating earthquakes. "I'm pretty pleased. She is a previous winner [in 1999], it is good to have her back," Cox said.
He doubted there would be any drug-testing done after the Christchurch marathon.
"We won't be instigating it as the organsiers," he said. "If there is any drug testing it will be done by the international body, but we haven't been advised they are doing that."
Hunter-Galvan was suspended by the New Zealand Sports Tribunal on August 28, 2009 after she tested positive for the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO).
She was sprung at an out-of-competition test conducted at her home in San Antonio on March 23 and later admitted to taking EPO three times. The drug promotes the growth of red blood cells to improve endurance.
Though Hunter-Galvan's ban is complete, the NZOC said recently that under its rules on doping, she would be ineligible to compete at next year's Olympic Games in London.
"The NZOC anti-doping policy states that any athlete found by an anti-doping disciplinary panel to have committed an anti-doping rule violation for the use of prohibited substances is ineligible for selection into an NZOC team for the next Games following the date of expiry of the period of ineligibility imposed by the Sports Tribunal," the NZOC said.
Name: Liza Hunter-Galvan Age: 41 Residence: San Antonio, Texas Sport: Marathon Olympic Games: 51st, 2004, Athens; 35th, 2008, Beijing. Personal best: 2hr 29min 37sec, San Antonio, Nov 17, 2008 Other: Two-year ban for using EPO, May 2009.
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