Nowhere in the complex maze of rules, regulations and interpretations that govern the world anti-doping system has anyone seen this warning: Beware of dog drugs.
It’s an understandable oversight, but it led to a three-month investigative expedition that ultimately exonerated the five-time Olympian of doping, adding what some see as an unnecessary asterisk next to her unblemished record as a clean athlete.
Ekaterina Nash, a mountain biker and cross-country skier who represented the Czech Republic at two Winter and three Summer Olympics, avoided a four-year doping ban after she tested positive for trace amounts of a banned substance. Authorities determined the substance got there through her skin during a messy struggle she faced to force drops of medication down the throat of her sick dog, a Vizsla named Ruby.
Despite not receiving a sanction, Nash’s meeting with anti-doping authorities on Thursday was still made public, a byproduct of long-established rules that require any doping violation – even an inadvertent ““adverse analytical finding”” as it is announced publicly.
“It’s scary to think that not washing my hands could ruin my entire 30-year career as an athlete,” Nash, 45, told the Associated Press. “But there is nothing to regret. I wouldn’t take care of my dog any other way. But in the end I touched the medicine every day for about three weeks straight.’
Nash lives in California and has been tested by the US Anti-Doping Agency. The results that came in a few days later at the USADA offices were surprising. A trace amount (0.07 billion grams per milliliter) of a substance called capromerelin was found in Nash’s urine. Although the amount was small, it was enough to cause an adverse outcome. And although capromerelin is not mentioned on the banned list, it still falls under the category of “other” banned substances related to human growth hormone.
As in the previous case, when an over-the-counter sunscreen was found to cause positive test results, members of the USADA scientific panel went to work.
First, they discovered that capromerelin is present in the drug Entyce, which is given to increase the appetite of sick dogs. USADA lead scientist Dr. Matt Fedoruk and others then began applying the drug to their own skin. After a few days, they gave a positive result. It was the latest example of the pros and cons of anti-doping’s use of increasingly sensitive devices that can detect minute traces of drugs.
“The problem with anti-doping is that the sensitivity has gotten so good that now we have an overlap between what is doping and what is the environmental exposure that you might be exposed to as an athlete,” Fedaruk said.
Prime examples of the problems that can arise from sensitive tests are the few cases in recent years of athletes who tested positive after kissing or having sex with partners who had banned substances in their system.
Other cases have involved traces of banned substances ingested by athletes when they eat tainted meat. In some cases, the anti-doping code has been adjusted to set lower thresholds for positive tests.
Nash’s attorney, Paul Green, says the rulebook hasn’t changed fast enough.
“Something needs to be done holistically to address these cases,” Green said. “Providing an opinion in a public announcement would be a good place to go, and it’s an easy fix. You could still have a finding of not guilty, but it wouldn’t have to be announced.”
During the trial, Nash was suspended both from the sport and from the position of President of the Athletes’ Commission of the International Cycling Federation. She said she’s well aware that some people will see the word “doping” next to her name and make assumptions that aren’t true.
“It’s very ironic because I took it seriously,” said Nash, whose first Olympics was in 1996. – I do not take food supplements. I have, for the most part, just stuck with what (one bar company) makes because it has been successful and I know where it is made. And now I’m just being punished for taking care of the dog.”
Unfortunately, the medicine did not save Ruby. About a month after Nash made the difficult decision to put the dog down, she got a call from USADA about the test. In a way, she’s lucky that USADA was willing to devote resources to finding out where the capromerelin in her system came from — an investment that will allow Nash to continue competing in mostly local competitions if she chooses.
Nevertheless, she admits, it is difficult to call it a complete victory.
For 15 years, she said, she filled out all the forms detailing her location, showed up for every test, and never had a bad result. However, the rules call for her name to be published in a press release USADA issued Thursday. The release is headlined: “WADA rules must change,” it said, referring to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which did not grant the exemption after details of the case were presented.
“It’s a tough system,” Nash said. “And it’s a pretty advanced system, and it’s there for a reason. But that shouldn’t stop us from making this system better for the future.”
AP Europe Sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports-europe and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports