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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.

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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