Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Fall from grace

Remember Irish swimmer Michelle Smith? Pretty little redhead who went from mediocre to multiple gold medalist at the 1996 Olympics thanks to a workout regimen that included (in all likelihood) steroids from her paramour Erik De Bruin -- a Dutch weightlifter who was suspended for his own steroid use. As late as 1993, Smith had not ranked in the top 25 in any swimming event, her 400m freestyle time dropped 19 seconds in 15 months and her rise to the top occurred at age 26 -- usually a time when such athletes are in decline. Ultimately she honked a urine test, was suspended for two years and had her medals stripped. Lisa Olson has this profile. Here is her description in the Swimming Hall of Shame (#82):

MICHELLE SMITH (DE BRUIN) (Ireland) tested positive for sample manipulation on 10 January, 1998 at her home in Kilkenny County, Ireland. Lethal levels of supplemental alcohol (the testing level is in excess of 100 mg/ml) were recorded. Unofficial reports indicated that there were also traces of a "banned substance." After requesting the B sample to be assessed at a different laboratory (Barcelona) in the presence of her legal representatives, similar signs of manipulation were revealed. Traces of artificially produced testosterone were also discovered but since the test that located the substance has yet to be "recognized" the testosterone will not be officially reported. De Bruin was banned for four years by FINA (August 7, 1998). A story in the Sydney Morning Herald (August 8, 1998) by Jacquelin Magnay reported that at the original unannounced testing testers were kept waiting for a half-hour at the gates of de Bruin's locked property. During the sampling de Bruin was unobserved for at least five minutes and when the sample was given there was a very strong smell of alcohol. This offence comes on top of de Bruin also making herself unavailable for two previous drug tests. After the four-year FINA suspension was imposed an appeal was made to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and held in May 1999 in public, but on June 7, 1999 the CAS dismissed the appeal. Michelle de Bruin will not be eligible to defend her Olympic titles in the Sydney 2000 Games.

From Mark Zeigler at the San Diego Union Tribune (June 10, 1999): "Androstenedione, which is banned internationally but not by Major League Baseball, is converted to muscle-building testosterone by the liver and is not as effective as anabolic steroids. But it has one distinct advantage for elite athletes trying to avoid detection -- its chemical fingerprint in the urine generally vanishes within 24 hours, compared with three or four weeks for injectable steroids.

In early 1998, the recognized testing technology could identify the presence of a testosterone precursor but not specific types. Only in the last year has isotope ratio mass spectrometry gained approval. It uses Carbon 12 and Carbon 14 isotopes to distinguish testosterone produced naturally and testosterone artificially introduced into the body.

The isotope ratio machines are expensive, and there is just a handful in the world. One happens to be in Barcelona.

That is the home lab or Dr. Jordi Segura, the highest-ranking doping official in the International Olympic Committee. Using the new technology, he retested three de Bruin samples taken from between November 1997 and March 1998.

And all three, he claims, were positive for androstenedione. Segura estimated de Bruin had taken androstenedione 10 to 12 hours before the Guys [testers] arrived at her house."

Marion Jones is an elite US athlete, winner of multiple gold medals in the 2000 Olympics, also pretty (and the subject of Nike's "Mrs. Jones" ads from 2000). She is also connected to dopers: former husband CJ Hunter was tossed out of the Sydney games for steroid use; current boyo Tim Montgomery is also a convicted cheater. Is there a coincidence here or two completely separate situations?

Jones is claiming a witch-hunt and grandstanding by calling for an open hearing. The US Anti-Doping Agency issued this statement clarifying its procedures:

Once a matter proceeds to arbitration, USADA offers evidence to an independent panel of arbitrators and the athlete through counsel presents a defense. Ultimately, it is the arbitrators, not USADA or others, who decide what weight will be given to the evidence, what burden of proof applies, and whether an anti-doping rules violation has occurred. If the athlete is unsatisfied with the outcome of that hearing, the athlete can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and have an entirely new hearing. This process was put in place following the 2000 Olympic Games and all U.S. Olympic athletes who compete have agreed to this process.

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