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Shelby Houlihan banned for four years
American record holder tested positive for nandrolone in January
Bombshell news dropped from the Bowerman Track Club on Monday evening as America’s marquee training group held a press conference on Zoom to announce that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has banned American record holder Shelby Houlihan from competition for four years after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone.
Houlihan, BTC and their lawyer Paul Greene of Global Sports Advocates say that Houlihan is innocent and that the trace amounts of nandrolone found in her system can be attributed to consumption of a burrito at an “authentic Mexican food truck” that serves pork products, including pig organ meat (also called pig offal). Studies have shown that it is possible for consumption of non-castrated male pork (especially pig offal) to induce a false positive of nandrolone.
Houlihan’s result was triggered by a drug test in December of 2020. She was notified of the positive test on early January, and has been provisionally suspended since then. In the months since then, WADA had yet to formally charge her, so Greene says their legal team filed an emergency hearing with Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) in an attempt to get Houlihan on the line for the Olympic Trials, which start this Friday.
The CAS decision to ban the 28-year-old for four years came out last Friday, June 11. If upheld, this could potentially end her career.
Greene says the next step is filing an appeal with the Swiss Federal Tribunal but did not offer a timeline.
Key in the statements made by Greene, Houlihan, BTC head coach Jerry Schumacher and assistant coach Shalane Flanagan on Monday is that they believe there is a different standard of arbitration under WADA compared to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
“Theres’s a lot of deference to the labs to get this right,” Greene said. “This lab was supposed to get a second opinion but they didn’t, it’s strongly recommended they get a second opinion… This was one lab director making a decision on their own to ruin Shelby.”
Houlihan said she underwent a polygraph test and had a hair sample tested in an effort to prove her innocence. Greene said they even hired a private investigator.
“I feel completely devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed by the very sport that I’ve loved and poured myself into just to see how good I was,” she said. “I want to be very clear: I’ve never taken any performance-enhancing substances, and that includes that of which I’m being accused. I believe in the sport and I believe in pushing your body to the limit just to see where that limit is. I’m not interested in cheating. I don’t do this for the accolades, money or for people to know my name. I do it because I love it.”
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because in recent years, Olympians Ajee’ Wilson and Jarrion Lawson both used a contaminated beef defense after producing positive test results for trace amounts of steroid. Lawson was handed a four-year ban by WADA, which was later reduced to two years. Wilson, who was charged by USADA, had to forfeit her American indoor record and prize money from the time of the positive test, but did not have to serve a ban as she was found to have consumed the substance without fault. Greene represented both Wilson and Lawson in their cases and he will certainly be pushing for at least a reduction to a two year ban, which would make Houlihan eligible for competition again in January of 2023.
Track Twitter was aflutter on Monday afternoon when vague news of the press conference broke, especially given Houlihan’s lack of races this year and Schumacher’s notoriously media-shy presence. But the BTC leader was verbose in his defense of his star athlete, who has been arguably the top distance runner in America for the past three years.
“It is now my understanding that friendly-fire casualties in the war on anti-doping are acceptable and we should all be outraged by that,” Schumacher said in a statement. “No clean athlete should ever have to go through what Shelby is right now, and we need to demand better for our athletes.
“To the clean athletes out there who I’ve coached against, you have every reason to be confused and distrustful of people in the sport. You are forced to witness and compete against dopers all the time. You are also led down roads of confusion that make you question everything and everyone. All I can say is, I’m sorry this adds another layer of doubt. Shelby has had her entire career taken away from her for something she didn’t do. Not all of you are going to believe me and many of you are going to be skeptical, but for those that do, you should be outraged that this can happen. You should be outraged that the most powerful organizations in our sport are not protecting you.
“You should be outraged that it happened to Jarrion Lawson, Ajee’ Wilson, Brenda Martinez and now Shelby. You should be outraged that it can happen to you.
“To borrow a leading anti-doper’s official response to me, how many lambs will we led to the slaughter before we address this issue?”
The news casts a shadow over the high-profile departure of steeplechaser Colleen Quigley from the group that helped her make the past four World Championship and Olympic teams. Rumors floated around the internet of bad blood between Quigley and Houlihan, and while at 28, it makes sense that Quigley would want to move out of Portland to live in the same city as her boyfriend, pursue non-running opportunities and align herself with a lifestyle brand, it also makes sense that she would want to distance herself from impeding bad optics.
The track world has certainly not heard the last of this and there is plenty more drama to go with the Olympic Trials just around the corner (Evan Jager, Molly Huddle, Shannon Rowbury all scratched from the Trials today), but one thing’s for sure: this sub-elite marathon hopeful is staying away from pork burritos.