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Study says widespread doping ahead of 2011 Track Worlds

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PARIS (AP) — A long-delayed study funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency says one third of athletes may have knowingly doped shortly before they competed at the 2011 Track World Championships – although few of them were caught at the time.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Sports Medicine, estimated that doping was even more widespread at the Pan-Arab Games in 2011, with at least 45 percent of competitors thought to have doped in the 12 months before the regional multi-sports event.

The researchers said a total of 2,168 athletes at the two events participated in anonymous questionnaires upon which the study was based. The volunteers were offered the choice of replying to the question: “Have you knowingly violated anti-doping regulations by using a prohibited substance or method in the last 12 months?”

After discounting some answers, from athletes who responded so hastily that they may have misunderstood the survey instructions or not carefully considered their response, the team of nine researchers from Europe and the United States came up with estimates of doping prevalence among athletes at the two events: 30 to 31 percent at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, and 45 to 49 percent at the Pan-Arab Games.

They said those findings may still have underestimated the extent of cheating.

“There are many reasons to suspect that we may have undershot the true values,” Harrison G. Pope Jr., one of the authors, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Pope is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Other experts who did not take part in the study said doping may now be less widespread than it was in 2011 – thanks to improved detection methods and following more recent doping scandals involving Russian athletes, in particular.

Michel Audran, director of France’s WADA-accredited anti-doping laboratory, noted progress track has made against doping, with more than 100 athletes caught by a biological passport program that tracks competitors’ blood and other readings over time for tell-tale signs of doping.

“It’s a snapshot of the time,” Audran said of the study. “In my opinion, it has diminished a lot since then.”

Olivier de Hon, manager of scientific affairs at the Netherlands Anti-Doping Authority, also said he has “good hopes” that doping is less widespread than in 2011. He said the study’s methodology was sound.

“It is an estimate but it’s a pretty good estimate – within a 10 percent range of what was likely the truth at that time,” de Hon said.

“It’s a pity it took so long to publish,” he added. “It was really new when they conducted it.”

The authors said the delay of nearly six years between collecting the raw data and publication this week was due to negotiations with track’s governing body, and between WADA and the governing body.

“I don’t really know where in the system the delay occurred,” Pope said. “What actually happened behind the scenes was quite murky.

“I do know that we wanted to be sure that we had thoroughly satisfied everybody.”

An earlier, but subsequently revised, draft of the study was published by the British parliament in 2015.

The IAAF’s new anti-doping unit said that while it could not comment on the study’s accuracy, it welcomes “any research on the prevalence of doping.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit added that it has “no doubt” that “significantly” more athletes are doping than are caught by drug testing.

“As a newly-established body, the AIU is confident that as it builds its investigations and intelligence capability to complement its testing program, the Unit will be able to better detect doping and, ultimately, be able to narrow that gap,” it said.

Transgender track and field athletes now face same standard that has kept out Caster Semenya

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Transgender athletes will have to reduce their testosterone level to the same level applied to Caster Semenya and other athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD), under a new policy enacted by World Athletics (formerly the IAAF).

As with DSD athletes, the threshold for middle-distance runners has been lowered from 10 nanomoles per liter to 5.

“These Regulations have been drafted to align with the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development) and include updates to reflect current medical standards and the legal framework,” World Athletics said in announcing the latest IAAF Council decisions.

The IAAF claimed a similar basis in medical standards last year when it announced its updated policy on DSD athletes: “No female would have serum levels of natural testosterone at 5 nmol/L or above unless they have DSD or a tumour.”

Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters, challenged that limit in the Court of Arbitration for Sport but lost her case in May. Given a brief reprieve by a Swiss court, she ran the fastest 800-meter time of the year (1:54.98), but a higher court overruled her appeal. She did not compete in the recent world championships.

MORE: Semenya laments lack of support

Another athlete affected by the DSD policy, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui, told the Olympic Channel she was struggling to find a new direction after the rule was passed.

“It affected me a lot,” Wambui said. “I didn’t want to train or do anything. …

“Caster has fought for us. She has done her level best. She has tried, but we failed.”

VIDEO: Wambui: “No one chose to be born the way they are”

Transgender athletes have not yet been prominent in international track and field, though controversies have arisen at other levels, particularly in a Connecticut case in which high school athletes filed a Title IX complaint after losing to transgender athletes. The athletes who filed the claim said they were potentially at a disadvantage in terms of earning college scholarships.

The new World Athletics policy insists that its stipulations for transgender athletes are actually generous. “The decision limit also takes into consideration that, for clinical purposes, the Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline for Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons recommends that transgender females should have serum testosterone levels of less than 50 ng/dL (i.e. approximately 1.7 nmol/L).”

But while DSD and transgender athletes face different issues, Semenya and other DSD athletes have set a precedent by withdrawing from competition rather than bring their levels down to the 5 nmol/L standard. In CAS proceedings, Semenya said she experienced regular fevers, night sweats, significant weight gain and constant abdominal pain while taking medication to meet the previous standard of 10 nmol/L.

The International Olympic Committee also put a 10 nmol/L limit in place for both transgender and DSD athletes in 2015. Some athletes have complained that transgender athletes still have an unfair advantage under that policy.

The World Athletics policy also addresses transgender men, granting them permission to take regulated testosterone supplements to bring levels within a typical range for men.

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U.S. men’s volleyball extends medal streak with bronze in World Cup

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With its medal-winning streak in jeopardy, the defending champion U.S. men’s volleyball team beat Egypt 22-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-13 on Tuesday in Hiroshima, Japan. Poland beat Iran later in the day to slip past the U.S. for silver behind unbeaten Brazil.

The experienced U.S. men have claimed a medal in the last four major international tournaments — gold in the 2015 World Cup, bronze in the 2016 Olympics, bronze in the 2018 world championships and bronze in this year’s World Cup. The men also placed second in the 2019 Nations League and third in the first Nations League in 2018, though the team failed to medal in the last two editions of the World League in 2016 and 2017.

Most importantly for next year, the U.S. men swept their Olympic qualification tournament in August.

Micah Christenson was named best setter of the tournament, as he was in the 2015 tournament and in the 2018 world championships. Middle blocker Max Holt was also named to the tournament “Dream Team.

VIDEO: U.S.-Egypt highlights

The U.S. team’s World Cup started with a five-set loss to Argentina, which went on to finish fifth. The U.S. rebounded to beat Italy, world champion Poland, host Japan, Tunisia and Iran before losing to eventual champion Brazil. Border rival Canada took the U.S. to five sets, but sweeps against Australia and Brazil put the team in position to clinch its medal.

Heading into next year’s Olympics, the U.S. team has several internationally accomplished players. In addition to Christenson’s multiple awards, Matt Anderson was named the best opposite hitter in the world championship and Nations League in 2018, and Aaron Russell was named to the Dream Team in the 2016 Olympics. Russell, playing for Italian team Trentino, also was named MVP of the World Club Championship in December.

The U.S. women’s team also won two medals this year gold in the Nations League, silver in the World Cup and swept its own qualification tournament.

This success comes despite the lack of a professional league in the United States. USA volleyball announced last week it has processed paperwork for 257 women and 82 men to play in foreign leagues for the 2019-20, with more players to follow.

The World Cup is contested every four years, the year before the Olympics. The world championship takes place in even non-Olympic years. Qualification for the World Cup is more difficult — only 12 teams reach the tournament, while 24 teams take part in the world championship. 

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