Dog medicine clears Olympian in drug-testing case

Katerina Nash

Nowhere in the complex labyrinth of rules, bylaws and interpretations that govern the global anti-doping system did anyone see this warning: Beware of Dog Medicine.

It’s an understandable omission, but one that led to a three-month sleuthing expedition that eventually exonerated a five-time Olympian of doping, while adding what some feel is an unnecessary asterisk next to her spotless record as a clean athlete.

Katerina Nash, a mountain biker and cross-country skier who represented the Czech Republic in two Winter and three Summer Olympics, avoided a four-year doping sanction after minute traces of a banned substance showed up in her system. Authorities determined the substance got there through her skin during the messy struggles she faced in forcing medicine drops down the throat of her ailing dog, a Vizsla named Rubi.

Despite not receiving a sanction, Nash’s encounter with anti-doping authorities still went on the books Thursday, a byproduct of long-enshrined rules that call for any doping violation — even an inadvertent ’“adverse analytical finding” such as this one — to be announced publicly.

“It’s devastating to think that, like, not washing my hands could ruin my entire career, being an athlete for 30 years,” the 45-year-old Nash told The Associated Press. “But there’s no regrets. I would not have cared for my dog in any different way. But in the end, I was touching this medicine every day for about three straight weeks.”

Nash lives in California and was tested by authorities from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The results that showed up several days later at USADA offices raised eyebrows. A trace amount (0.07 billionths of a gram per milliliter) of a substance called capromorelin had shown up in Nash’s urine. Though the amount was minuscule, it was enough to trigger an adverse finding. And though capromorelin isn’t specifically mentioned on the banned list, it still falls in the category of “other” prohibited substances that are related to human-growth hormone.

Much as they had in a previous instance where an over-the-counter sunscreen was determined to have caused positive tests, members of the USADA science team went to work.

First, they discovered that capromorelin was present in a medicine called Entyce, which is given to boost the appetite of sick dogs. Then, USADA’s lead scientist, Dr. Matt Fedoruk, and others went about applying the medicine to their own skin. Within days, they were testing positive. It was the latest example of the pros and cons of anti-doping’s use of increasingly sensitive instruments that can detect minuscule traces of drugs.

“The challenge with anti-doping is that the sensitivity has gotten so good, that now we’ve got this overlap between what’s doping and what’s exposure in the environment that you may be subjected to as an athlete,” Fedoruk said.

Prime examples of issues that can arise from sensitive tests are the handful of cases have been dropped in recent years involving athletes who tested positive after kissing or having sex with partners who had banned substances in their systems.

Other cases have involved trace amounts of banned substances athletes ingest when they eat tainted meats. In some instances, the anti-doping code has adjusted to set lower thresholds for positive tests.

Nash’s attorney, Paul Greene, says the rulebook hasn’t changed fast enough.

“Something needs to be done in a holistic way to address these cases,” Greene said. “Giving discretion in announcing it publicly would be a good place to move, and that’s an easy fix. You could still have a no-fault finding, but it would not have to be announced.”

Nash was temporarily suspended from both her sport and her spot as president of the athletes commission for the international cycling federation while the case was pending. She said she’s well aware that some people out there will see the word “doping” next to her name and make assumptions that aren’t true.

“It’s so ironic because I have taken this seriously,” said Nash, whose first Olympics was in 1996. “I don’t take supplements. I have, for the most part, just stuck with what (a single nutrition-bar company) produces because that’s been successful and I know where it’s made. And here I am, just being punished for taking care of my dog.”

Sadly, the medicine did not save Rubi. About a month after Nash made the gut-wrenching decision to put the dog down, she got her first call from USADA about the test. In a way, she feels fortunate that USADA was willing to devote resources to figuring out where the capromorelin in her system came from — an investment that will allow Nash to continue competing in mostly local events if she chooses.

Still, she concedes, it’s hard to call this a total victory.

For 15 years, she says has filled out every form detailing her whereabouts, shown up for every test and never had a bad result. Still, the rules called for her name to be published in the news release that USADA put out Thursday. The headline of the release: “WADA rules must change,” it says in reference to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which did not allow for an exception after presented the details of the case.

“It’s a brutal system,” Nash said. “And it’s quite an advanced system, and it’s there for a reason. But it shouldn’t stop us from making that system better for the future.”

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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