LAST LAP — July

HERE’S THIS MONTH’S collection of short takes on generally off-track activities that have gone/will go a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed.

In happier times, Shelby Houlihan won 13 USATF titles; now she’s staring at a 4-year-suspension. (MIKE SCOTT)

On Eve Of Trials, Shocking Houlihan News

AR holder Shelby Houlihan had been conspicuously absent from racing this year, and on June 14 we discovered why when a Bowerman TC press conference explained the circumstances.

Houlihan spelled it out in detail on Instagram (lightly edited to conform with T&FN style):

“On January 14, 2021, I received an e-mail from the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), informing me a drug-testing sample that I provided on December 15, 2020, had returned 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 e-mail, I had to read it over about 10 times and Google 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 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 5 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 buildup 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 11, I received the news that CAS did not accept my explanation of what had occurred and has subsequently banned me from the sport for 4 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.”

Major CAS decisions these days are frequently appealed to the next higher authority, the Swiss Federal Court, but there was no immediate suggestion on this from the Houlihan camp.



McNeal Suspension Upheld, But…

As originally reported in this column in the February issue, the AIU announced in January that Olympic 100H champion Brianna McNeal had been provisionally suspended for “tampering within the results management process.”

Previously suspended for a year in ’17 because of a whereabouts failure, the former AR holder was said to be facing as much as 8 years for a second offense. McNeal appealed this latest decision but in early June a Disciplinary Tribunal confirmed the charge and assessed a 5-year penalty, backdated to begin August 15, 2020.

McNeal, 29, is now pursuing the next step, which is an appeal with CAS. She will be allowed to run in the Olympic Trials while that process runs its course.


WR Setters Are Fans Of New Shoes

Criticism of the new super-shoe technology and the corresponding revolution in distance times doesn’t bother World Record setters Sifan Hassan and Joshua Cheptegei, who recently responded to those criticisms at a pre-Florence CL press conference.

“All of us have new phones; before no one had telephones. So we have to go back to radio to listen?” said Hassan. “What’s wrong with you people, just move on. We’re a new generation, chill out, don’t just complain, just be positive, everybody, have fun.”

Cheptegei, who wore the spikes in his 5000/10,000 WRs late last season, echoed, “I believe technology is changing the world. We’re not living in the 1990s, we have to accept the new innovations from the new companies, the technologies. We have to go and live, it’s about the comfort that allows you to reach your dreams.”


Ostrander Being Treated For Eating Disorder

Allie Ostrander has gone public with her struggles with an eating disorder, releasing a statement via Instagram in mid-June:

“I’m tired of keeping secrets. I’m tired of telling half-truths. But most of all, I’m tired of living with an eating disorder. 6 weeks ago I left altitude camp with my team and admitted myself to a partial hospitalization program for eating disorder recovery. It was not entirely my decision, but I truly appreciate [USATF and her sponsor, Brooks] in helping me take this step and supporting me along the way.

“This has been the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It is challenging, uncomfortable, uncertain, and pretty much every other feeling that I just don’t like. I’m really scared, but I always tell myself that being scared isn’t a good reason to not step to the line for a race, and I think that rings true here as well.”

She concluded, “I was afraid to share this on social media, but I’m more afraid of the disservice I would do to other individuals who share similar struggles by keeping this to myself. This shit is hard, but it’s not uncommon and (apparently) it’s possible.”

A 3-time NCAA steeple champion while at Boise State, the 24-year-old Ostrander is entered in the OT, where she is the No. 8 seed.


The IOC Schedules New Walk For Paris 2024

So it appears that women never will get to walk 50K in the Olympics. The ’17 and ’19 World Championships added the event, but the IOC didn’t follow suit for Tokyo.

However, women walkers will get a second chance at Olympic golds other than the 20K when Paris rolls around in 3 years, as the IOC has announced the creation of a new mixed-sex team race (which means the end of the men’s 50K).

The format of this new event — including the distance and the number of athletes on each team — has not been chosen yet. A proposal for the format is due to be presented to the IOC’s Executive Board in December. Although WA hasn’t commented, one might logically expect the new event to be on the program at the WC in Eugene next year.


Tokyo Looking More Like A Go

As the Olympics draw closer, the question of whether the Games will go on seems to be fading into the background. Early-June polls of the Japanese public show the number in favor of the massive event has risen from 39% to 50%.

Continuing to move that needle is seen as crucial. As one top government official said, “It is important to create circumstances where the Japanese public feel safe heading towards the Tokyo Games.”

To that end, the IOC assured the Japanese that up to 80% of accredited media coming to Japan will be vaccinated, and the figure for athletes is expected to be higher than that.

Organizers also will be using the GPS technology on cellphones to track the movements of all athletes, officials and media, so that in the event of any C19 cases, quick contact-tracing can be done.

Still, not all are happy about developments. Kaori Yamaguchi, one Japan’s best-known Olympians and an executive member of the nation’s Olympic Committee, published an editorial saying, “We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now. We are damned if we do, and damned if we do not.”


More Tokyo Developments…

The IOC is having athletes sign a waiver, per usual practice, but for the first time it mentions death by disease or heat as threats:

“I agree that I participate in the Games at my own risk and own responsibility, including any impact on my participation to and/or performance in the Games, serious bodily injury or even death raised by the potential exposure to health hazards such the transmission of COVID-19 and other infectious disease or extreme heat conditions while attending the Games.”…

The official decision on whether Japanese spectators will be allowed has still not been made public, though reports say that 225,000 fans a day may be allowed, and that they may all need negative COVID tests or the vaccine…

A Japanese opposition leader, the foremost challenger to prime minister Yoshihide Sugo in the next election, says that the IOC should leave all of its VIPs home, including its president, Thomas Bach, staging, “We shouldn’t let anyone into Japan other than those who are absolutely essential for the events.”…

NBC has announced a record 7000 hours of overall programming for the Games, covering 2 broadcast networks, 6 cable networks and various digital platforms…

Organizers are considering a ban on alcohol in the Athlete Village, and while they are handing out 150,000 condoms, they come with the request that athletes take them home. ◻︎

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