Wallace Spearmon Suspended 3 Months
At a July 6 meet, the sprinter tested positive after an intramuscular
”cortisone” injection ”administered by his physician in a medical setting”
September 19th, 2014
By Sieg Lindstrom
Three-time USATF 200 champion Wallace Spearmon set the question mark key alight on social media eight days ago when he tweeted, “In about a week I'll make a statement that will disappoint quite a few people. I apologize in advance. Irresponsible moments.” Today the topic of that statement has been revealed. Spearmon has received a 3-month suspension from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for a positive test for the corticosteroid Methylprednisolone “administered by his physician in a medical setting.”
The adverse result came in a doping sample collected at the Edmonton International Classic meet on July 6, where Spearmon ran 3rd in the 200.
Spearmon's ban began on August 27 and will end in November on Thanksgiving. Additionally, per USADA, Spearmon's Edmonton result plus all subsequent competition results, "medals, points and prizes" have been forfeited.
Those are the bare facts. Spearmon—a two-time Olympian and winner of four outdoor Worlds medals including a relay gold in ’07— told T&FN in a telephone conversation on Monday, "I was not trying to cheat, I made a mistake."
The sprinter went on to say, "I want to do this in a different way than it's been done [by other athletes who have tested positive]. People have had this happen but you never hear [any details] about it so there's only room for speculation. I want to put as much information out there as I can. In my mind that would leave less room for minds to wonder."
To that end, Spearmon has provided T&FN with copious documentation, including medical records, correspondence with USADA and his physician, his doping control form from the Edmonton meet, and medical documentation of asthma that has afflicted him since early childhood.
The "medical setting" referred to in USADA's announcement was the Fayetteville, Arkansas, office of Spearmon's physician since his early teen years, Dr. Mark Bonner, where Spearmon went on June 10 to seek relief from cold-like symptoms and a sore throat which Dr. Bonner diagnosed as "seasonal allergies complicated with pharyngitis or sinusitis."
Bonner told T&FN via email that he treated the sprinter's condition with "an intramuscular injection of cortisone (a medical grade nontestosterone steroid)… along with an antibiotic for infection."
In doing so, Bonner wrote, "There was never any intent on my part or Wallace's to engage in any treatment not allowed by the Track and Field governing bodies, but only to provide standard medical treatment for this young man's seasonal allergies and sinus infections."
T&FN has reviewed Bonner's clinical record of Spearmon's visit, in which the doctor described the sprinter having symptoms of "cough, fatigue, fever, generalized weakness, myalgia and wheezing." The clinic record shows that the injection Bonner prescribed contained 160mg of Depomedrol (of which the primary ingredient is Methylprednisolone) and 12 units of the antibiotic Bicillin.
Bonner wrote in a letter explaining his treatment of Spearmon to anti-doping authorities, "I want to assure you there was no intent of misuse of this medication on [Spearmon's] part, as I requested he receive these injections based on the difficulty of treating his illnesses in the past. [Spearmon] has helped inform me of the Rules for medication usage by the various International Track Governing Organizations and I will not make this mistake again.
"I'm sorry for any inconvenience this has caused."
Methylprednisolone is classified on the WADA Prohibited List as a glucocortisteroid, viewed, as the USADA release explains, as a "Specified Sustance, and therefore the presence of Methylprednisolone in an athlete's sample can result in a reduced sanction."
As USADA Testing Results Manager Lisa McCumber explained to Spearmon in a July 31 letter notifying him his Edmonton A-sample was positive, "Under the applicable rules, glucocortisteroids are prohibited when administered by oral, intravenous, intramuscular or rectal routes. Glucocorticosteroids administered by any other means… are not prohibited." As explained in subsequent paragraphs, this class of drugs is not prohibited in out-of-competition circumstances.
McCumber's letter further advised Spearmon, "Your use of this substance may be determined to not be an anti-doping rule violation if you satisfy the conditions that your use of the substance was to treat a medical condition, such use is well documented prior to the date of collection of your Sample, and the facts and circumstances put to rest any reasonable suspicion that you used the substance to enhance your performance or administered the substance using a non-prohibited method."
Based on the USADA announcement, one can conclude Spearmon's explanation satisfied all of these conditions, except that the drug was administered by a prohibited method.
"[USADA] explained it to me later that I could have filed for a TUE [therapeutic use exemption] after I got the shot and everything would have been OK," Spearmon said. "What [USADA Legal Affairs Director Onye Ikwuakor] told me was, 'You got the shot out of competition. We don't screen for this substance out of competition, it's an in-competition thing, so if you had waited long enough [to compete] you could have got that shot and it never would have been an issue.'"
The fact is, Spearmon said, "If I would have filed for a TUE, then there would be no sanction, no punishment—or if I would not have competed." [USADA's release confirms this.]
"But it was just crazy to me because I passed two drug tests and then I failed one." The first of these was an out-of-competition test shortly after he received the injection. Such a screen would not include a check for Methylprednisone, but Spearmon's sample after he placed 2nd in the USATF 200 on June 29 was also negative.
As Bonner stated in a letter explaining his medical treatment of Spearmon to anti-doping authorities, "Based on the clinical responses to this medication, and the published muscle release rate, I would expect this medication to still be released into his system at the time of [the July 6] drug screen."
The factor, which tipped him into positive territory, Spearmon believes, is that in the days prior to the Edmonton meet he used his Methylprednisone-containing asthma inhaler, for which he has a TUE.
"I've been asthmatic since I was born," Spearmon said. "I was put in the hospital several times when I was young for asthma. I had one of those little brown breathing machines that you had to carry around. You can talk to my Mom; I mean it was bad when I was young so for me to do what I do [as a world class athlete] is definitely a blessing."
The slate of 2014 Spearmon competitions nullified as part of his sanction includes 200s at the Glasgow DL, Lucerne and the Madrid IWC, plus his finish in Usain Bolt's "beach 100" in Brazil."The fact that this has happened just—when you fail a drug test, regardless of what it is, people speculate," Spearmon said. "It tarnishes everything you've done from the time that you've been running. People are going to have their thoughts about everything that you've done, everything that you're going to do.… From now on, people will look at me like I'm a cheater.
"It stinks because sometimes people do make mistakes and sometimes when people do cheat they try to make it seem like they made a mistake. It's hard to tell the difference.
"I take full responsibility for my actions."