Sunday, October 24, 2010


Well, I have to admit that I've been a little down in the dumps lately. I've known that this WADA Code that rules over cycling and other sports is unfair at times but this latest example is down right ridiculous.
Recently two Arbitration decisions have been ruled on. One was with LaShawn Merritt, a 400m runner that has represented the USA in the Olympics. He was found to have DHEA in his system during his off season in the Fall of 2009. He took his case to arbitration and he proved that he ingested the DHEA unknowingly through the supplement ExtenZe. We've probably all seen the late night annoying commercials for ExtenZe. Haha, right? Well, I'm not laughing. I feel so badly for this guy who made a stupid decision but had no intention of cheating. Of course, Extenze spikes their product with DHEA so it's not on the label. And from what little I understand about dietary supplements - that's perfectly okay! DHEA won't harm anyone (it won't help them either but that's a different issue)...oh, except for elite athletes who are responsible for everything that goes in their bodies. As if we all have mass spectrometers in our basement so we can check compositions of everything we consume. Granted, Extenze isn't exactly a reputable company that anyone in their right mind would trust but no one is denying that he made a stupid decision. To me, this is the key point of the case - excerpt taken from the Arbitration ruling found on the USADA website:
"At his hearing, Mr. Merritt proved two things beyond a reasonable doubt, (i) he tested positive as a result of ingesting the product ExtenZe, he purchased at a 7-Eleven store, and (ii) he did not purchase this product to enhance his sports performance. His evidence was so convincing that after his submission the USADA agreed that Mr. Merritt's positive tests were caused by ExtenZe."
Okay, so USADA admits that he took it accidentally with no intent to cheat. We also know that the scientific evidence of the performance enhancing benefits of DHEA are inconclusive at best. So, in light of these facts what did the panel decide? They decided to reduce his sentence from 24 months to 21 months. A whopping 3 month reduction for a guy who took something that was mis-labeled in his offseason which likely helped him athletically in no way. Wow. I bet USADA feels all warm and fuzzy about that one.
Next up we have the recent CONI deal with the Danilo Di Luca case. Admittedly, I don't know anything about this case than what I read in the headlines. But here is the story in Velonews. So let me recap, Di Luca won a bunch of races and in particular finished 2nd on GC in the Giro in 2008 on CERA, the next generation EPO that didn't have an approved test until about the time he got caught. Well, Di Luca realized he couldn't beat the charges so decided he'd detail to the anti-doping authorities his doping methods. This disclosure was enough to get him a reduction from 24 months to 15 months. An admitted cheater, who won races 'doped to the gills' as they say, gets 15 months. And what did Di Luca have to say about it?
“I gave no names. I did it for (the good of) cycling, not to point the finger at any cyclists. I explained the methods (of doping). My decision to speak was above all to help educate the youth.”
Translation: "I'm not a narc! I didn't roll on anyone, I promise! I did it...I did it for the kids! Yep, it was all for the kids. Oh, and being able to race (and get paid a shit load of money) in 2011 may have played a small part in my admission."
That's our anti-doping system in a nutshell. If only I were an actual doper with knowledge of methods, suppliers, and other dopers - I too, could possibly get a reduction. Bummer, I guess I'll just have to sit out my 2 years.


Anonymous said...

amen brother!!

Also look at chodroff, admits to everything, his results match up with what he said, yet he gets 2 years like everyone else.

All those other Joe Papps guys will fight it forever and also get 2 years.

Anonymous said...

"That's our anti-doping system in a nutshell". You're right. No straight cut decisions, everything is negotiable even within the same governing body. No rhyme or reason. All you can do is conclude that in the end you paid a higher price than some for a lesser offense, but you plead your case with the utmost openness and honousty. You didn't admit to something you didn't do, just to get off with a lighter sentence. Still, with the Papps' and Di Luca's for example, I can't understand how explaining how, where and when someone is doping can get them a reduction of their penalty whatsoever.
Tom, you can return in 11 months with your head held high, most people still hold honousty in high regard. We'll see you soon back racing.

Tim, Chicago.

Bob Kuehn said...

The system is inherently flawed. Flawed in a manner that people's lives and careers are irreversibly effected. USADA, WADA and all the national governing bodies of sport can not deal effectively with doping until they correct themselves.

JMP said...

Tom, you know how I've come to feel about your case, but one thing I want to emphasize for your readers, who might not have as sophisticated an understanding as you do of the two cases you cite - it's really CONI that appears to be capable of dubious action (in the case of Di Luca) whereas USADA continues to toe a consistently-hard line. And I doubt that USADA, had it been party to Di Luca's case, would ever have consented to such a radical reduction in his suspension - when the rider himself goes to great lengths to point out that his cooperation was completely devoid of any significant assistance in identifying other athletes using doping products to unfairly earn hundreds of thousands of euros per year.

No doubt that your cycling career was destroyed at its zenith by a case of inadvertent ingestion of DHEA, and you are paying the price in the form of a full two year ban (how many tens of thousands of dollars would it have cost you to post-up the experts and legal guidance necessary to prove your innocence and obtain a reduction in your ban? $150,000? A quarter of a million dollars? That works out to more per month in legal and scientific expert fees than most guys earn in two years in the US domestic peloton).

But I don't think that USADA is the villain here - they seem to be reasonably consistent in applying what seems more and more to be unfair penalties against those who've accidentally ingested "banned" products like DHEA. (It also bears mentioning that DHEA doesn't work, as you well know, and there IS a radical difference b/w what one can infer about an athlete's motivation when he's been "caught" w/ DHEA vs. EPO - apples and oranges...)

It seems to be the Italian anti-doping system that which is, at least on the surface, unreasonably lenient in allowing an admitted doper like Di Luca to escape the full sanction despite not providing truly significant assistance in the form of fingering his colleagues in the peloton (spitting in the proverbial soup, he'd call it).

Were he holder of a US license, I suspect Di Luca would be sitting out more than two years, whereas if you were Italian, perhaps a case would never have been brought against Tomaso Zirbel.

No one is perfect, and certainly no agency is above reproach in the fight against doping in sport. But for the most part, USADA seems to me to try to apply consistent sanctions to ensure that there is some measure of fairness - even if that fairness takes the form of still-significant sanctions for all athletes (or most athletes) convicted of inadvertent doping violations...

Keep your chin up and keep trying to stay productive during your sanction, invest that $$$ that you saved by declining to arbitrate your case and come back for a few more years once you're cleared. There's no reason to think you'll have lost the class that took you almost as far as a medal in the elite World ITT. I know it en vogue to be jaded and cynical once you've been banned, but it's crazy to think that even two years away from the sport will succeed in erasing a love of cycling from your DNA.

Good luck!

TomZ said...

thanks for the thoughtful comment (essay!) and support. I agree that USADA has been consistent and CONI in this case (and the Spanish Federation of late) have been too lenient, but that's partly my point. We're all under the WADA Code and Americans race Italians all the time. The way CONI handles cases affects us and vice versa. I think most would agree that the punishment does not fit the crime in either example that I gave. It just seems that we could come up with a more universal and just system if WADA would take the time to ask pertinent questions of intent and level of performance enhancement, rather than formulate a reactionary and ill-conceived Code that blankets distinct individual cases.

whareagle said...

At the USAC Coaching Summit, the USADA table was... the least trafficked table there. They were so bored, lonely, shunned, etc. that they folded up shop 2 days early. Serves 'em right. They do you (and us) no favors at all.

Anonymous said...

Tom, just because other people get away with speeding doesn't make your bust wrong. I can appreciate the frustration, but you're still asking us to trust you while making clear you don't trust others. Why whould we trust you?

You and USADA agreed to the penalty you're serving. You haven't revealed any other information. USADA won't reveal any other information, though if you wanted arbritration, they'd probably have some more evidence. We'd only know about it afterwards. We don't know what the tests found other than DHEA. Maybe they show unusual blood values, maybe there's a very interesting epi/testosterone ratio, maybe there are plasticizers. Publish your test results and let us decide for ourselves.

TomZ said...

Good point, but I've covered this in previous posts. I don't have access to my epi:testosterone levels. They won't give them to me. It's true that an adverse CIR test makes identifying the actual substance that caused it difficult but I've asked them to give me my E:T values from that test and previous tests to see if it was elevated and they tell me I don't have a right to that data.
As far as blood tests, I don't have much testing history: once each at Tour of Cali in 2008 and 2009, once after Worlds 2009, and once after they knew of the positive test but before they notified me in Oct. 2009. They've never mentioned any adverse findings.
And just to be clear, I'm not asking anyone to trust me. I'm asking the anti-doping authorities to look at all of the evidence surrounding each individual case and not lump CERA cases with those that have trace amounts of a common contaminant, for instance. Plus, I think we can do a better job of meting punishments that better reflect the level of infraction.

Perhaps a Parrot said...

Tom, I was hoping to send you an e-mail, but don't have your address, and don't need to share my message with your blog. Can you hit me up (my e-mail is on my blogger profile page)?

Anonymous said...

Thom, I've had no doubt in my mind that physically your body will be perfectly able to perform the way you want it to for years and years to come, and your recent events in TX back me up. Worst case scenario, full length sentence, and you could come back and do exactly what you were before and then some. -Mitchell
(p.s. I'm speaking of sexuality btw, I don't know jack-squat about racing. love ya.)

Anonymous said...

You said "full-length"...

Marco Pinotti said...

Tom ,

completely agree with your post. I remember you sitting with me for a while in Mendrisio hot spot after our TT race at Worlds.

what happened to you is unbelievable, but I admire and respect the way you react.

take care and all the best.


Sara said...

LOL mitchell.

So you coming back to w'burg for nationals or what? ;)