The US 1500m and 5,000m record holder Shelby Houlihan has been banned for four years for doping after her claim that she ate a contaminated pork burrito 10 hours before a positive test for nandrolone was rejected.
In a statement Houlihan, who ran an area record 3min 54.99sec over 1500m to finish fourth at the 2019 world championships and was considered a leading Olympic medal contender for this year’s Tokyo Games, claimed that she had “never even heard of nandrolone” when she was first told of the news by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) in January.
The 28-year-old insisted that ingesting the anabolic steroid must have inadvertently come from eating a burrito “from an authentic Mexican food truck that serves pig offal near my house in Beaverton, Oregon” 10 hours before a 6am drugs test last December.
Houlihan’s team had agreed with the AIU to hold an expedited hearing at the court of arbitration for sport (Cas) in Lausanne, in the hope of proving her innocence before the US trials that begin on Friday, but went public after hearing Cas’s verdict had gone against her.
“I did everything I could to prove my innocence,” Houlihan said. “I passed a polygraph test. I had my hair sampled by one of the world’s foremost toxicologists. The World Anti-Doping Agency agreed that the test proved that there was no build-up of this substance in my body, which there would have been if I were taking it regularly.
“Nothing moved the lab from their initial snap decision. Instead, they simply concluded that I was a cheater and that a steroid was ingested orally, but not regularly. I believe my explanation fits the facts much better – because it’s true. I want to be very clear. I have never taken any performance-enhancing substances.”
Cas is expected to release its full reasoning in the coming days, but Houlihan’s lawyer Paul Greene said an appeal to the Swiss federal tribunal was being considered.
Houlihan’s coach, Jerry Schumacher, also spoke out against the verdict. “What we are witnessing here is a great tragedy in the history of American distance running,” he said.
“To the AIU and Wada: Shame on you. Shame on you for not caring about the truth. Shame on you for using athletes in a political chess match. You got it very wrong this time and that is not OK. It’s not OK to be right nine out of 10 times when deciding to execute someone’s athletic life and dreams.”
However Brett Clothier, the head of the AIU, said that Houlihan’s case had been decided on its merits by an independent panel.
“After being charged by the AIU, Ms Houlihan’s case was heard by a three-member panel at Cas, which made its decision after hearing evidence and arguments from the athlete’s lawyers and the AIU,” he said.