Ironman and Age Group drug testing

[Updated: 9PM, 2/23/17 to add Outside Online article with details on costs per positive test of  $320,404]

Another "internet storm" has blown-up over on slowtwitch after it was again announced an age-grouper, Holly Balogh, had tested positive for banned substances. You can read the details here.

Slowtwitch published a detailed write-up on the whole issue of supplements, last week. It contains some useful advise as well as illuatration of the risks.

I've written quite a few times here about the issue of age group testing, especially here. I'm not going to go over it again. However, a few salient points

  • Prior to an comprehensive age group testing program being rolled out, national governing bodys (NGB) like USAT need to run comprehensive education programs. There are many ways athletes can be in violation and it's not enough that there is a page on the website.

  • Along with a comprehensive age group education program, there needs to be advice and potentially a standard operating procedure (SOP) for age group advice in the event of a positive sample. Unless you are prepared to assert there are NO false positives, NO such thing as tainted supplements, then age grou athletes need to be advised on how to appeal, when announcements are made, legal options etc. For most age group athletes it is just sport, if through some set of events they ended up getting a positive result the announcement can quite possibly lose their job and go into serious debt based on what, "tainted meat", "tainted supplements used over time"?

  • A complete cost breakdown is needed for the administration of a drug testing program. At least when I looked at this back in 2004, it was prohibitively expensive just to carry out the work on the already sampled and delivered blood/urine. That excudes the cost of testing onsite, the storage and transportation, and in the event of a positive test, the cost of legal and administrative work to announce and enforce the ban, and to handle appeals. Are age group athletes really prepared to pay the price for that? In a Velonews article "The Awful Truth About Drugs in Sports", they reveal the cost per positive sample of $320,404.

  • Over on the slowtwitch thread there are the usual accusations that "Ironman doesn't care", they are "just in it for the money". I've debated this face to face with Andrew Messick Ironman CEO, and I don't believe it's true. While they could do more, especially in transparency, I have yet to hear of a specific accuasation about a pro or age group athlete that has not been acted on. The Holly Balogh case seems to have had more than a simple post race test.

  • Age group athletes granted a TUE, should become ineligiable for prizes at ANY sanctioned races. No one is stopping them from racing, but by taking substances they are able to train, recover and perform beyond their normal ability. This year is my first year in the 60-64 age group, I know how hard recovery is, and yes, Im sure I could find a Doctor to prescribe based on dubious markers, a "supplement" that would put me back in the "normal" range, but thats not acceptable. I'm sorry for those who have genuine issues with real problems, that need a TUE, but to make sure the sport is fair, you are welcome to race, you just are inelligable to stand on the podium.

  • Cycling, running a triathlon associated companies, NGB's need to stop accepting advertising and marketing from companies that while legal, are the slippery slope to drug cheating. It's not a matter of whats legal, it's a matter of perception, and since events are in some way private, free speech doesn't apply. Everytime I open Bicycle and Triathlete magazines and see these adds, I despair.

  • Transparency. When Brandon Marsh and I were considering launching "Pure Tri" back in 2014, we were going to make transparency a key part of it. I'd want to think through that as it would apply to age grouper athletes. What are the downsides of having you name on a list of being tested? What are the negative outcomes of having publically available results. However, once thing is clear, is the industry in general must have a better source for naming products known to contain banned substances, and also for black listing products that have been found to be tainted. Yes, there are legal issues with this, but really, they can't be overcome? Athletes need to do their own due diligence?

Most of all though, I'm OK with the current level of testing and the expense. Provided there are clear "whistleblower" hotlines and resources to report cases, and these are followed up, I think thats enough. At least as far as I'm aware that was the case for Kevin Moates, and seems to have been part of the Holly Balogh case.

For all my posts on drugs-in-sport, use this link.
  • Current Location: Boulder, Colorado
  • Current Mood: pensive pensive
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