Monday, July 28, 2008

Jessica Hardy Fails Test for Substance that Ensnared Trainer

U.S. swimmer Jessica Hardy tested positive for the banned stimulant clenbuterol last week and is in the process of expedited arbitration proceedings to see whether she can swim at the Olympics next month. Clenbuterol is a bronchodilator belonging to a class of drugs known as beta-2 agonists. It is similar to albuterol which is one medication that Dara Torres currently uses legally by having a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). Unlike albuterol, no TUE's are permitted for clenbuterol because clenbuterol and zilpaterol are considered anabolic agents.

Clenbuterol has also been mentioned here when Big Brown trainer, Rick Dutrow's horse, Salute the Count, tested positive for two times the allowable amount back in May. The drug is an approved medication in horse racing used primarily as a bronchial dilator, which increases lung capacity.

I'll float two possible scenarios to explain Hardy's positive test:

One, Hardy has asthma, a TUE and accidentally grabbed the "wrong" inhaler which led to the positive test on July 4th while tests on July 1st and 6th were negative.

Two, as Gary Hall Jr. said earlier that the sport was adopting "entertainment morals" perhaps Hardy could speculate that a teammate sabotaged her asthma medication with the banned stimulant. If that type of reality tv shenanigans occurred, that would draw more interest to the pool and provide a whodunit element ensuring everyone on the team received their 15 minutes of fame...Now that would be entertaining.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

You Know You're Doping When...

You flee anti-doping officials. That's what two stage Tour de France winner, Riccardo Ricco chose to do when anti-doping officials were looking for a sample after the fourth stage on July 8th.

Pierre Bordry, the head of the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD), gave this description of the failed great escape, "When he knew he was going to be tested, he went off, and it is the escort who caught him. He found himself blocked off. There was a traffic jam of cars and he could not get through the cars."

The AFLD asked Ricco and his team, Saunier Duval for an apology. The AFLD decided to test Ricco everyday after his erratic behavior. Ricco was expelled before the start of the 12th stage after test results came back positive for EPO and his team quit the race. Ricco and fellow teammate Leonardo Piepoli were then fired.

One has to wonder what Ricco was thinking? If he avoided the doping officials in stage 4, would he have tested clean for the remainder of the race? Did he think officials and the media wouldn't be suspicious if he suddenly wanted to get another ride in after a grueling time trial? Here's a novel, inexpensive testing method: if an athlete flees at the site of doping officials, that counts as a failed test.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marion Jones Asks President Bush to Commute Sentence

Marion Jones is one of the hundreds of convicted felons who have applied for presidential pardons or sentence commutations from President George W. Bush. She is seeking Bush to commute her six-month prison sentence. The Justice Department will review her application and make a recommendation to the president. A pardon removes a conviction from a person's record while a commutation only reduces or eliminates the person's sentence.

Jones entered a Fort Worth, TX prison on March 7th and is currently serving six months for lying to federal agents about using PED's and her involvement in a fraudulent check writing scam that ensnared the father of her older son (and a former WFM) Tim Montgomery. The check writing scam involved cashing millions of dollars worth of stolen or forged checks.

In January, Jones was sentenced to six months in prison and 400 hours of community service in each of the two years following her release. She was sentenced to six months relating to the steroids and two months relating to the check fraud, but allowed to serve both sentences concurrently.

Marion: don't expect W. to do you any favors. You get an "A" for effort, but really what are you thinking? Do you think being a former Olympic hero will grant you a favor with the president? Tonya Harding didn't have the gall to ask for a pardon when President Clinton was leaving office for her role in attacking fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan.

The president invoked the evils of steroids in his 2004 State of the Union address when he said, "The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous and it sends the wrong message: that there are shortcuts to accomplishment and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid of steroids now."

Marion: You sent the wrong message that there are shortcuts to accomplishments and now you're looking for W to provide you with another shortcut! For you, performance was more important than character and apparently still did the crime, do the time...all of it. I'd be shocked by your audacity, but shock and awe, when it comes to athletes went away a long time ago when they professed their innocence for years only to be forced to tell the truth...or face a longer jail sentence. Bad play, Marion.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dara Torres is on PED's...Legally

NBC is pinning its ratings hopes for the Beijing Games on the momentum surrounding the unbelievable story of 41-year old swimmer Dara Torres. After her World Record performance at the Olympic Trials, it is now speculated that she will be the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies on 08.08.08.

Skeptics have questioned how it is possible that she swam faster this year than 20 years ago. Other recent athletes whose performance improved in their 40's were aided by PED's, most notably Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

This performance is made possible by the financial resources available to an ex-model and the daughter of the one-time owner of the Aladdin casino (along with Wayne Newton) combined with her Type A personality devotion to training, according to a piece in the New York Times. She reportedly spends over $100,000 a year on a bevy of coaches (head, sprint and strength) and receives additional support from two stretchers, two masseuses, a chiropractor and a nanny.

It turns out, this performance is possible in part (and what NBC and the rest of mainstream media fails to inform the public) by performance enhancing drugs. Torres' has a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for Symbicort (active ingredient formoterol) and Proventil (active ingredient albuterol) to treat asthma which is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2008 Prohibited List under Beta - 2 Agonists. Unusual in Torres' case, her asthmatic condition was diagnosed only 18 months ago.

Amy Van Dyken, a former gold medalist swimmer, suffers from asthma. In a 1999 CNN online chat, Van Dyken admitted to using a "Ventilin (active ingredient albuterol) inhaler every day as needed. I'm on a Flovent (active ingredient fluticasone) inhaler twice a day; I'm on Serevent (active ingredient salmeterol) inhaler twice a day and a bunch of other stuff." She went on to win two Gold Medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Two of the medications mentioned are beta 2 agonists, but these drugs were not banned until September 2001. Van Dyken was also forced to testify to the BALCO grand jury in 2003. Gary Hall Jr., a former teammate of Van Dyken, recently questioned the validity of her accomplishments by comparing her to Marion Jones. Hall also doubts that the sport is clean. He is aware that the dopers will always be in front of the testers. Hall said, "This sport has become entertainment and it has taken on the morals of the entertainment industry where you can cut corners - and cheaters do prosper." Van Dyken has never tested positive for any PED.

Asthma and sports is a topic that no one wants to address. Why do more Olympic athletes suffer from asthma than the general population? Among athletes surveyed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, 10% took asthma medications yet only 1% of the general population suffers from asthma. The number of Australian Olympians calling themselves asthmatic jumped from 10% to 21% in 12 years. In the Winter Olympics the number of people using asthmatic drugs is much greater. According to the late International Olympic Committee (IOC) medical chief Alexander de Merode, 70 to 80 percent of the athletes are using asthmatic drugs. The question is why this abnormality when it comes to Olympic athletes and the logical answer is that the substances used to treat asthma improves performance.

Changes to the asthma assessment regarding the use of beta - 2 agonists were made in 2001 by the IOC after some disturbing trends were discovered at the 2000 Sydney Games. There was a large increase in the number of athletes notifying the panel of the need to inhale a beta-2-agonist at the 2000 Sydney Games and ironically enough the notifications were predominantly requested in endurance sports. It was at this time that TUE's would be granted for beta - 2 agonists.

Per the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) website, the criteria for granting a TUE include an athlete experiencing significant health problems without taking the prohibited substance and the use of the substance would not produce significant enhancement of performance. In Torres case, was she really experiencing "significant health problems without taking the prohibited substance" 18 months ago? What about two, five, ten and twenty years ago? Given her unlimited financial resources, one would think that a proper diagnosis of asthma would have been detected years ago. It would appear that the use of the substance did factor into her Olympic Trials performance. Now it is up to WADA to determine if the substance was a "significant enhancement of performance."

I raised both these issues with an official at WADA, but never received a response. In addition, I inquired whether WADA periodically reviews TUE's and has the ability to revoke a TUE during the year.

Everyone wants to believe in the unbelievable - that's entertainment. However, we are discussing international athletic competition, not entertainment. The public is under the impression that what it witnesses is pure and genuine. Lately, the public's trust in the pure and genuine of sport has crumbled with the fall from grace of Marion Jones, Barry Bonds and Floyd Landis. Before we get sucked into NBC and mainstream media's hype machine, let's analyze the facts: Torres admits to using banned substances, but has in essence a "doctor's note" by having a TUE saying that she needs the medication. In order to qualify for a TUE, one needs to demonstrate that significant health problems would occur without it and that her use of it is not performance enhancing. This condition developed 18 months ago despite having the financial resources to see the best doctors and receive the best treatment throughout her life.

If that's all she's using then legally she's clean, but morally is another story.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

1st Bust Unoffically Signals Start of Tour de France

For mainstream media in the U.S., the Tour de France strated on Friday with the doping bust of Spanish rider Manuel Beltran. For those not paying attention, the Tour de France officially started on July 5th.

Beltran was suspended from the Liquigas cycling team and kicked out of the Tour de France after testing positive for EPO on July 5th after the first stage. If Beltran was using EPO on the first stage, his chances of winning the Tour were never that good to begin with. Beltran was a teammate of Lance Armstrong helping him win the Tour in '03, '04 & '05. Beltran is the fourth former Lance Armstrong teammate to test positive for doping after Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton and Roberto Heras .

Pierre Bordry, leader of the French anti-doping agency, said Beltran had been targeted after his "parameters were abnormal" during pre-Tour blood testing July 3-4.

Let's give the Tour some credit. Race organizers know their sport is in dire straits and have constantly raised the bar for combating doping. This year the Tour employs 8 specially trained chaperones who shadow riders after each stage, going as far as climbing onto team buses, to ensure cyclists go to post-stage anti-doping checks. Tour officials are realistic enough to know they won't eliminate the problem, but at least they are being out in front of the issue.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Curlin Off Roids...Looking for 4th Win Roid Free

Today Curlin will look to win it's 4th race in a row, roid free.

After being named the 2007 Horse of the Year, it turns out, Curlin might have been aided during his impressive run by Big Brown's roid of choice, Winstrol. His owner Jess Jackson, has acknowledged Curlin's past roid usage and now wants to prove that Curlin is a roid-free champion.

In January, Jackson "discovered" that Curlin was roiding up from trainer Steve Asmussen and advised him to stop its use. Since cycling off the juice Curlin is undefeated, and crushed the field in a seven-and-three-quarter-length victory over an impressive field at the $6 million Dubai World Cup in March. Dubai has the some of the world's toughest testing standards in horse racing.

In today's Grade I $500,000 Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont Park, Curlin will try to keep the roid free winning streak alive. This race is important for Curlin and Jackson because their sights are set on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 5 at Longchamp Race Course in Paris. If Curlin can win today and in October, Jackson hopes that he can bring back some much needed credibility to the sport of horse horsing.

“I’m trying to prove that Curlin is a real champion, and that we can race horses into their 4-year-old years and beyond,” said Jackson, 78, the founder and owner of Kendall-Jackson Winery. “I want to show the industry that we can breed horses with stamina and durability, and race them clean.”

Last month, Jackson put all his trainers on notice (he has more than 60 racehorses) that he would take the step to independently drug test his horses after each race. The owners of Big Brown, IEAH, have also said they will do this starting in October. Unlike most professional sports, Jackson has instituted a one strike and you're out policy: the trainer would be fired for any positive test.

Ironically enough, Texas racing officials said that a horse trained by Asmussen tested positive for the anesthetic lidocaine, the same drug that Roger Clemens said Brian McNamee injected him with and not the PED's that McNamme alleges.

What is it with baseball players and horses taking the same drugs? Isn't there something inherently wrong if the same drugs that Barry Bonds allegedly used to fuel his assault on the home run record is being used to fuel Big Brown's assault on the Triple Crown? If anything, this disturbing development leads credence to the claim that pets should be able to take psychotic drugs that humans take - apparently animals and humans are reaping the same benefits.

In this specific instance, Asmussen took a page from the "tested positive athlete" playbook and has denied wrongdoing, claiming that the test was "faulty" and that he was not allowed to send the samples to a lab of his choosing. Isn't the purpose of having independent testing so that the possible cheat doesn't have the option to send it to a "friendly" lab? Lucky for Asmussen, Jackson is buying his story! Jackson will take a wait and see approach before any discipline. I'm sure today's race had nothing to do with altering his stance on the one and done strict discipline policy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Problem with MLB

Over the 4th of July weekend, MLB unveiled Stars & Stripes caps for all 30 MLB teams as part of a "Welcome Back Veterans" program created by New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon. Though the Stars & Stripes program is not relevant to the Toronto Blue Jays, fortunately for Blue Jay fan, they were not left out of the program (their cap had the Canadian flag).

According to the AP, Wilpon hopes to raise $100 million. MLB will donate a portion of the cap sales (retailing at $34.99 each) to the program. The majority of the revenue not going to the vets will go to MLB, Mr. Wilpon himself and the other MLB owners. This is another classic example of MLB trying to do the "right" thing, but once again, coming up short. MLB's recent stances regarding uniforms, PED's and "staged moments" indicate that there needs to be a change at the top, specifically Bud Selig.

Regarding uni's, in March 2007 MLB instructed Craig Biggio to remove a cancer pin he had worn on his hat during spring training games for the previous 20 years. Biggio was the national spokesman for the Sunshine Kids foundation. Baseball card photos are usually taken during spring training and during his involvement with the cancer stricken kids, he knew how important it was for them to see the pin on his baseball card. However, baseball didn't give a damn about kids with cancer. MLB sent a fax to the Astros advising management for him to remove the pin. The umpires working the next spring training game were advised that he was not allowed to take the field with the pin.

MLB didn't support Biggio's charitable work for cancer and forced him to remove a pin during meaningless exhibition games. One year later, MLB is dictating to all players that they need to wear a Stars & Stripes cap and appear as if they support the veterans whether they personally do or not. Most educated fans see this for what is: a publicity stunt and another way for MLB to milk the fans of their money by making them purchase yet another "special" cap. Using recent history as a guide, MLB does not support children with cancer, but whole heartily supports the veterans. A bit of a hypocritical stance for MLB, but that's how they roll under current leadership.

If only MLB was as vigilant with PED's as they were with uniform violations, perhaps MLB will not be questioned by Congress every six months. It is nice to know that their response time was about the same for uniform and PED violations: 20 years after the initial violation! After 20 years of wearing the pin, MLB decides to "crack down" which is approximately the same amount of time it took for a steroid testing program to be implemented after the drugs first started appearing in the sport. Excellent work, MLB - way to be enforcing uniform violations rather than players using illegal drugs - that's keeping your eye on the ball.

The reason why MLB was not out in front on both issues comes down to the same issue: money. When Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire brought baseball back from the brink, ownership and the Commissioner were not at all going to ruin a good thing. Attendance, ratings and interest were all up. That was not the time to "do the right thing" and set the right example for the kids who looked up to these juiced up ballers. Going as far to incorporate benefits of the Roid Era into marketing campaigns ("Chicks Dig the Long Ball") is proof that the people in the home office knew what was selling and they were going to ride it to the bank.

Uniforms too were changing about every three years for every non historical team (Devil Rays to Rays, different logos, etc.). MLB and ownership trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the public by constantly parading new merchandise for the fans. A fan of the New York Yankees is not going to buy a new Yankee lid each year, but a fan of the Brewers might buy the new uniform lid, retro lid and/or the Sunday home lid to mix it up with his old lid. Ownership will say that they have to change uniforms every 3 to 5 years in order to compete with the traditional powers because of the economic inequalities. Merchandise revenue is just another source of revenue that would allow a small market team to compete with a traditional, big market club.

The other issue with this Stars & Stripes event is it has the same feel as other "staged events" recently held by MLB. Usually these events occur at historical moments such as Barry Bonds passing Hank Aaron or at the All-Star Game, where an icon from the sport will be brought out and the current stars of today will race out to slap five with the "old school" player. This took place at the 1999 All-Star Game when Ted Williams rode out of center field on a golf cart and was then greeted by the current all stars at the pitcher's mound. The fans appreciate the spontaneous historical moments, like when Aaron passed Ruth and the two fans ran out on the field to congratulate him. These forced celebrations have the sincerity and feel of a forced smile at a disgruntled family reunion. Stop banging us over the head and making the public feel like they are witnessing something "special" or "historic". They (and time) will make that determination.

Personally I haven't seen too many people rolling in their team's Stars & Stripes lid so I think Mr. Wilpon will have to revise his goal of $100 million downward. Either that or hope fans have buyers remorse when MLB busts out the S&S lids on Sep. 11th.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Owner Advises Dutrow He's on Short Leash

Michael Iavarone, co-owner of IEAH which owns Big Brown is tiring of trainer Rick Dutrow's act, but is still is impressed with his results.

He told a reporter for ESPN that Dutrow is on "a short leash" in the aftermath of his handling of his latest drug offense. Salute the Count, Dutrow's horse he was training, tested positive for having more than two times the amount of clenbuterol after finishing second in the Aegon Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs on May 2nd. Dutrow faces a 15 day suspension.

Dutrow took the high road stating that the media has overblown the situation and that he had not intentionally broken any rules saying, "It's my responsibility, but it's not my fault."

Iavarone did go on to praise his trainer for an impressive win at the Belmont when 40-1 long shot Frost Giant won the Grade I Suburban Handicap this past Saturday.

At some point IEAH will have to make up their mind regarding Dutrow: either they are a results driven organization no matter what tactics are employed or they take a stand and break a trainer off who has been suspended at least once per year for the past nine years. Mr. Iavarone, ball is in your court.