Tokyo 2020: Beware of tainted burritos
Published on June 15th, 2021
You sit in the big chair long enough at Scuttlebutt HQ and Curmudgeonly traits are hard to avoid. Skepticism comes too, and with regard to athletes and drug infractions, their tactic is to always deny until they can’t (thanks, Lance Armstrong).
However, the recent four-year doping ban by Shelby Houlihan, the 28-year-old American record holder in the women’s 1500m and 5,000m, has us thinking. She will now miss Tokyo 2020 Olympics in which she would have been a medal favorite, but it’s her explanation that hits home.
She’s blaming Mexican food.
As Scuttlebutt HQ is in San Diego, we eat a lot of Mexican food. It’s damn near a staple, with plenty of drive thru restaurants serving it up at any hour of the day. It’s so good, we might have a fridge full of food, but we’d rather hop in the car for a meal.
And now we learn we could be banned from the Olympic too. Lucky for us nobody is asking for our urine sample, but for the rest of you campaigners, skeptics, and Mexican food lovers, read her story:
Since I started running when I was 5 years old, I’ve had dreams of running professionally, setting records, winning an Olympic gold medal and being one of the best in the world. I have always blindly believed that I was good enough to achieve those things.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve put in more time, more miles, have become more dedicated, and have learned to genuinely love this sport. It’s what brings me the most joy. It’s where I feel the most me. I have always done it the right way. I’ve put my head down and just worked at being better year after year. I’ve stayed patient and trusted that the work and consistency would show.
I still have all of the same dreams I had when I was 5 and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been able to have achieved some of them. I still have others that I’m working towards. But the thing that truly drives me is the love and joy I get from what I do and the curiosity to find out what my potential is.
On January 14th, 2021, I received an email from the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), informing me a drug testing sample that I provided on December 15th, 2020 has returned as an Adverse Analytical Finding for an anabolic steroid called Nandrolone and that I am therefore subject to an immediate Provisional Suspension.
When I got that email, I had to read it over about ten times and googled what it was that I had just tested positive for. I had never even heard of nandrolone.
I have since learned that it has long been understood by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) that eating pork can lead to a false positive for nandrolone, since certain types of pigs produce it naturally in high amounts. Pig organ meat (offal) has the highest levels of nandrolone.
In the following five days after being notified, I put together a food log of everything that I consumed the week of that December 15th test. We concluded that the most likely explanation was a burrito purchased and consumed approximately 10 hours before that drug test from an authentic Mexican food truck that serves pig offal near my house in Beaverton, Oregon. I notified the AIU that I believed this was the source.
Although my levels were consistent with those of subjects in studies who were tested 10 hours after eating this source, and WADA technical guidelines require the lab to consider it when analyzing nandrolone, the lab never accounted for this possibility. They could have reported this as an atypical finding and followed up with further testing. The anti-doping experts I have reached out to say they should have.
I did everything I could to prove my innocence. I passed a polygraph test. I had my hair sampled by one of the world’s foremost toxicologists. WADA agreed that test proved that there was no build-up of this substance in my body, which there would have been if I were taking it regularly.
Nothing moved the lab from their initial snap decision. Instead, they simply concluded that I was a cheater and that a steroid was ingested orally, but not regularly. I believe my explanation fits the facts much better- because it’s true. I also believe it was dismissed without proper due process.
On June 11th, I received the news that the Court of Arbitration did not accept my explanation of what had occurred and has subsequently banned me from the sport for four years. I feel completely devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed by the very sport that I’ve loved and poured myself into just to see how good I was.
I want to be very clear. I have never taken any performance enhancing substances. And that includes that of which I am being accused. I believe in the sport and pushing your body to the limit just to see where the limit is.
I’m not interested in cheating. I don’t do this for the accolades, money, or for people to know my name. I do this because I love it. I have so much fun doing it and it’s always the best part of my day.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Program
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Men’s Skiff – 49er
Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
Men’s One Person Dinghy Heavy – Finn
Men’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Women’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17
Original dates: July 24 to August 9, 2020
Revised dates: July 23 to August 8, 2021