DRUGS in Mountain, Ultra and Trail #EPO #UTMB

EPO-Doping-Offers-No-Benefit-to-Athletes-286x300

Last week and the week before, EPO, DOPING and the UTMB was the hot topic after Gonzalo Callisto’s positive test. Everyone was talking about it… this week it’s all gone quiet. That can’t happen! You can catch up on my posts below.

Post 1 UTMB faces positive EPO test HERE

Post 2 Michel Poletti HERE

Post 3 IAAF HERE

Post 4 Update IAAF and Catherine Poletti HERE

Post 5 Gonzalo Calisto statement HERE

Post 6 ITRA statement HERE

There are far too many questions unanswered, there are far too many people being quiet and if we want to eradicate doping from Mountain, Ultra and Trail running – we need to keep talking and discussing.

I was approached by Outside Magazine and they asked me a few questions. I am pretty sure that what gets used or published will be an edited version and with that in mind here are my thoughts, un-edited.

In light of the latest news from UTMB, what you think this positive test means for the sport? 

One has to embrace the positive test as a good thing as it confirms that preventative measures against doping are working. This positive was an ‘in competition’ test which only confirms the need for out of competition testing and blood passports. Of course, the answer is always that testing is too expensive. We have to act now and be proactive. I don’t have the answers but I do feel that we could start to address certain issues that would help. Maybe it’s time that we ask (for example) the top 100 male and top 50 female runners as listed on ITRA to pay for a regular medical? Sage Canaday recently released a full report on his medical status to ‘prove’ he is clean; that’s a good thing! (See below). Athletes of course may well say that they can’t afford it but this is where sponsors come in maybe? We cannot keep making excuses as to why we can’t but find ways to make sure we can! We are at the very early stages of doping in our sport and if we don’t act now it will only become worse and God forbid, we could end up like cycling or athletics.

Do you think doping is really becoming something to worry about, or is this a case of an outlier?

We need to worry, yes! This is not the first positive test, it maybe a high profile conviction, but it would be foolish to think that this is an isolated incident.

Are people starting to talk about doping more in ultarunning than before? Or maybe a better way of asking this is how are the athletes you know, talking about this subject and what it means for the sport?

I certainly have witnessed more discussion about doping and of course this was highlighted at the end of 2015 at San Francisco 50. This was a moment when the sport really looked at itself and many questions were asked. It actually became quite nasty at times and I think a sense of perspective was lost. For example, WMRA (World Mountain Running Association) and Skyrunning have been testing athletes for many years. They have very much paved the way but they acknowledge they can only do so much. In competition testing costs 1000’s of euros or dollars for one event and of course, only urine can be tested. Many say it takes an idiot to to be caught ‘in competition’ but it happens. I go back to blood passports – we really need them for elite, professional and sponsored runners. Some races do not have a ‘PED’ policy and San Francisco highlighted the need for races and RD’s to address this in the rules of the race. Western States for example has re-written its race rules to say that any runner who has had a positive conviction cannot race. Many runners have asked for a lifetime ban for any positive test and they have been vocal about this. I personally am reluctant to go down this route… I do believe that mistakes can happen in drug testing but I am not an expert. This creates a whole new debate and raises questions about the lasting effects of a doping program. For example, we used to have two positive tests and out, I liked that but apparently that has been deemed unfair?

Are people starting to test more for doping than in previous years? What has this looked like?

As mentioned previously, WMRA and Skyrunning have been testing for many years but not at all events. Skyrunning for example had its World Championships in Spain in July, they had three events, VK, SKY and ULTRA and WADA performed tests at all three race distances. The problem comes, once again with cost. At the Skyrunning World Championships, 12 athletes were tested. The make and female winner in each category (making 6) and then 6random tests. Let’s assume testing at an event is $10,000 – who pays? Do we add a surcharge on every runners entry fee? Does that race find a sponsor to cover the cost? Do we rely on a wealthy donor or do we approach all the major brands in the sport and say, you must pay! It’s a complex matter and this is why doping control is a rarity in contrast to the norm. Let’s look at races such as Speedgoat 50k, Run Rabbit Run and San Francisco 50 – these races have some substantial prize money, in some scenarios it could mean a pay check of $10,000+ for a win. Yet nobody has any idea if the winner is clean? Moving away from trail running and looking at ultra road running, Comrades in South Africa has huge prize money and it has a very chequered past with doping: Max King, Ellie Greenwood, Sage Canaday and Michael Wardian (amongst others) have all witnessed the impact of it first hand.

What is your own experience with testing?

I attend races as a photographer and a journalist so in reality, I have little experience of the drug testing process. However, I am a media partner for Skyrunning and I have been present and seen the processes undertaken at several major events where doping control has been in place by WADA. For example, I was at the Skyrunning World Champions on July, 22, 23rd and 24th. I also experienced doping control at Limone Extreme in 2015 and Mont-Blanc 80k in 2014 amongst others.

Do you think the tests, or the conversation about doping in general in ultras is lacking? What could be done better?

Certainly the positive test of Gonzalo Calisto has raised some major flaws in the communication process. I have done extensive research over the last weeks and my conclusions have been quite worrying. I will elaborate:

  • Gonzalo Calisto was tested after placing 5th at UTMB by French drug control – AFLD In August 2015.

  • AFLD have a written policy that a positive test is given to (in this case) the runner within three weeks.

  • The runner is then entitled to appeal and ask for a B sample test.

  • This process can then go backwards and forwards for several weeks and in this scenario (as I understand it) months. Don’t get me wrong, the runner has rights and it’s only fair that he or she has every opportunity to clear his or her name.

  • In June 2016 the IAAF released its current banned list.

  • On July 18/19th British Ultrarunner Robbie Britton noticed that Gonzalo Calisto was convicted of EPO and banned till March 2017.

  • I picked up the case and contacted UTWT and UTMB directly and asked were they aware of this conviction? I later found out, no!

  • Within 12 hours, UTMB released a press release disqualifying Gonzalo Calisto of doping.

The above raised so many questions for me:

1. How was it possible that Gonzalo Calisto had tested positive but UTMB did not know?

2. Why was his period of exclusion dated till March 2017 when he had been tested in August 2015?

3. Why had the IAAF only published this in June 2016?

I asked questions of the UTMB and the IAAF. In both scenarios they were both helpful. 

1. To cut a long story short it would appear that when an athlete is tested positive, the testing control, in this scenario AFLD, are not required to inform the race. REALLY? A race has a runner place 5th, the runner is tested, the runner is found guilty, due process is run and then a positive is confirmed and a sanction is put in place without the race being told…. C’mon that HAS to change! Had it not been for the eagle eyes of Robbie Britton and me grabbing the bull by the horns, nobody ‘may’ have known?

2. IAAF explained the ‘due process’ to me and although they were not able to supply specifics, they did say that these things can often take much longer than we would all like and that 6 months is not unusual. Considering Calisto was tested on the last day of August, that potentially could take us to February or March the following year.

3. The IAAF then confirmed that an error had been made! As I pointed out to them, why was Calisto banned till March 2017? The answer: Calisto’s ban and records were amended from a memo dated March 2016 and it was therefore human error. Calisto’s ban dates actually run from March 2016 to March 2018. This coincided with point 2 above and a lengthy due process where one assumes Calisto tried to clear his name.

4. From the March conviction, Calisto’s records then entered the IAAF system and his conviction was uploaded to the ‘sanctioned athletes’ list in June 2016.

5. The IAAF confirmed to me that AFLD did not have to notify UTMB of a conviction but they would look into it?

So, for UTMB to be aware that an athlete had cheated at a previous edition of their race it would appear that the only option open to them is to check daily on the IAAF website for any additions to the sanctioned athlete list.

 

I could go on…

Why do you think the sport has stayed clean for so long, and what might be changing that would compel people to cheat? 

The sport hasn’t been clean for so long. That is a naive viewpoint. Doping has existed in trail running for ages but if you don’t have testing or a blood passport, how would you know that…? I like to use an example and I must be clear here, I don’t doubt the integrity of the runner I use as an example. Karl Meltzer, my co-host for Talk Ultra podcast has won more 100 mile races than anyone. He has even won Run Rabbit Run and he took home $10,000+ He has been running ULTRA’s for 20+ years. You know how many times he has been tested for PED use?  NEVER. Need I say more… This is why our sport has bean ‘clean’ for so long, no testing!

For the most part it seems like the conversation around doping in ultras is relatively new, and also that cheating might be a new thing too. Do you think there’s a chance for race directors, athletes, etc. to get out in front of this and keep the sport clean before it becomes the kind of large-scale issue it is in some other sports?

The Calisto case has raised eyebrows, we need to latch on to that momentum and we need to consider many of my points above but let’s be clear, Calisto is not the first!

On a final note we need to keep this discussion open, we need to keep asking questions and we need to find answers and solutions. It’s too easy to say it’s too expensive, too difficult and so on. We could start by:

  • Blood passports for runners
  • Regular in and out of competition testing
  • Positive results MUST be sent to a race or RD as soon as possible if a positive test came from a race.
  • IAAF need to find a way to communicate ‘new’ sanctioned athletes to the relevant sport discipline. This is where ITRA or maybe an athlete commission could be set up.

We, as runners, journalists, sponsors and so on must be loud and clear that doping is not welcome and we must do all we can to work together. In the Calisto case I have still not seen or heard any public statement from his sponsors, Movistar and Compressport. Compressport did contact me to say that they were ‘looking into it!’ What does that mean…? They also said that Callisto’s sponsorship with Compressport was with a local distributor and not the International division. As far as I am concerned, local or International, Calisto is still representing a brand and that brand gains attention. And also what about the races that Calisto has run and placed in in post August 2015?  The IAAF now confirms the suspension dates back to that time and until March 2018. Not one word, not one public statement from any race that I have seen… do these races condone doping? What about the runners who placed top 5 or top 10 only to loose a place… come on, speak up!

Update August 12th and Compressport respond


A great place to start is here, Sage Canaday has just recently posted his results online for all to see. Let’s lead by example!

SageDopingReport

I welcome your thoughts!

15 thoughts on “DRUGS in Mountain, Ultra and Trail #EPO #UTMB

  1. hi ian! would it be possible for you to quickly clarify what a positive test for EPO means in this case? i.e. has modified/recombinant EPO been detected (which would make it relatively easy to conclude doping of course) OR (given that his “high” EPO levels could very well be a consequence of his genetic makeup and/or his regular exposure to high altitudes at home) was this just the detection of “abnormally” high EPO levels? thanks for the clarification.

    • Andreas. If you read the posts and the ITRA statement all should be clarified. His altitude lifestyle and/or training can show abnormalities which ITRA document however a failure as stated came from a positive at UTMB. Therefore one concludes that this came from a urine test and therefore synthetic epo. Doping! I have asked AFLD for more info but they refuse to supply any information. Hence my call for clarity. It’s important for all, especially Calisto.

      • thanks for the reply. i was figuring that already from reading all the documents, but just wanted to make sure (in fact exactly for those ITRA exceptions). if it was really synthetic EPO, all is clear of course, but one never knows. thanks.

  2. Hi Ian, what is the MCV flagged as high on Sage’s test? Is there a quick reference available to know what all that info means? Thanks!

  3. Great summary and great views given to “Outside”. Hopefully they’ll get them all published in their full length and original version.

    Considering transparency and communication within the ruling federation and anti-doping agencies, every sport has been touched in a more or less recent history. IAAF is barely getting itself out of the doping/corruption scandal initiated through its president (Lamine Diack) by replacing him with his as corrupted vice-president (Lord Coe), all of this under the caring supervision of WADA (Dick Pound, master of unprecedented changes in point of view). UCI is making things even worse for its own sport (cycling) throughout the years, even though we have been watered the so-called new generation rise after Armstrong’s fall (it is all false). In all cases, anti-doping agencies and controls are way too much linked to the ruling authorities and therefore, too much subjected to its appreciation and will dismiss this athlete/country (Russia anyone?) or embrace and promote this athlete/country (UK, Armistead very recent case).

    The whole system has to be thought over. It is a rather complicated issue both from the ethical point and the obvious financial point as you mentioned in your article. Who pays for, who HAS to pay for it, who controls who and who gets tested and how? There is no direct and simple answer to this matter but it has to be independently and rapidly assessed if we don’t want to see this sport to rise higher and to fall even deeper afterwards.

    Unfortunately in the meantime, mountain/trail running is growing as a sport and as a market too, with all the glory(-ification) it implies but also with the arrival of new brands, supports and athletes with expected and/or surprising results. Initiatives such as the one by Sage Canaday (maybe triggered by his very distant contacts with coach Salazar and Galen Rupp during his HS years) are clearly the way to follow. Even though in this particular case, we miss a precise information to start establishing his blood passport (based on the calculation of the so-called “off-score” = Hb (g/L) – (60 x sqrt(Retic %)), where Hb is the Hemoglobin amount and Retic % is the value of the reticulocyte count).

    Last year, around San Francisco 50 time, when Desco’s case emerged, I launched a poll on the anti-doping fight in mountain running (using a simple a google form) and contacted all the runners and sponsors I could through twitter. Surprisingly (at least to me), even if I’m a complete “nobody” in the twitter world, a good 15-20 of them actually took the time to answer (and even Adam Campbell gave me one or two advices). The vast majority was already asking for out of competition testing. Some of them, because of their professional participation to other sports (the main one being ski mountaineering) were already subjected to regular testing but still were demanding more tests to be performed in the trail running environment. On the contrary, a little minority of athletes were considering that no tests were necessary and didn’t think that out of competition tests were of any interest. After all, I deleted it (how stupid of me) mostly because it wasn’t well enough thought and designed…

    As a sport that relies a lot on its “community” spirit, I think its essential to get the athletes involved in the grand design of an anti-doping program for mountain/trail running, even more considering that there are multiple ruling authorities around. Eventually, considering that you have always been prompt and up to speak about that matter, defend this sports integrity and considering that how far your voice spreads in that community, you could be the main character to start assessing that matter (another grand poll maybe or any other supervision tool ?).

    Great job anyway Ian,
    Cheers

    • Thanks for the feedback and comments. It’s a huge undertaking as we both know but I think Sage posting his results publicly is a way forward. I realise it’s open to abuse, for example a corrupt athlete could pay a corrupt doctor for corrupt results… But we must start somewhere. As you say, we have WADA, AFLD, NANO, ATRA, IAAF and so on. Nobody talks. Like I said in the post, if you run for prizes, places, sponsorship, money, travel, endorsements and so on, prove you are clean! Each runner could take on the costs of a test once or twice a year… It makes a statement, it sets a standard and hopefully it can progress to something more official and as some stage, blood passports?

  4. Great summary and great views given to “Outside”. Hopefully they’ll get them all published in their full length and original version.

    Considering transparency and communication within the ruling federation and anti-doping agencies, every sport has been touched in a more or less recent history. IAAF is barely getting itself out of the doping/corruption scandal initiated through its president (Lamine Diack) by replacing him with his as corrupted vice-president (Lord Coe), all of this under the caring supervision of WADA (Dick Pound, master of unprecedented changes in point of view). UCI is making things even worse for its own sport (cycling) throughout the years, even though we have been watered the so-called new generation rise after Armstrong’s fall (it is all false). In all cases, anti-doping agencies and controls are way too much linked to the ruling authorities and therefore, too much subjected to its appreciation and will dismiss this athlete/country (Russia anyone?) or embrace and promote this athlete/country (UK, Armistead very recent case).

    The whole system has to be thought over. It is a rather complicated issue both from the ethical point and the obvious financial point as you mentioned in your article. Who pays for, who HAS to pay for it, who controls who and who gets tested and how? There is no direct and simple answer to this matter but it has to be independently and rapidly assessed if we don’t want to see this sport to rise higher and to fall even deeper afterwards.

    Unfortunately in the meantime, mountain/trail running is growing as a sport and as a market too, with all the glory(-ification) it implies but also with the arrival of new brands, supports and athletes with expected and/or surprising results. Initiatives such as the one by Sage Canaday (maybe triggered by his very distant contacts with coach Salazar and Galen Rupp during his HS years) are clearly the way to follow. Even though in this particular case, we miss a precise information to start establishing his blood passport (based on the calculation of the so-called “off-score” = Hb (g/L) – (60 x sqrt(Retic %)), where Hb is the Hemoglobin amount and Retic % is the value of the reticulocyte count).

    Last year, around San Francisco 50 time, when Desco’s case emerged, I launched a poll on the anti-doping fight in mountain running (using a simple a google form) and contacted all the runners and sponsors I could through twitter. Surprisingly (at least to me), even if I’m a complete “nobody” in the twitter world, a good 15-20 of them actually took the time to answer (and even Adam Campbell gave me one or two advices). The vast majority was already asking for out of competition testing. Some of them, because of their professional participation to other sports (the main one being ski mountaineering) were already subjected to regular testing but still were demanding more tests to be performed in the trail running environment. On the contrary, a little minority of athletes were considering that no tests were necessary and didn’t think that out of competition tests were of any interest. After all, I deleted it (how stupid of me) mostly because it wasn’t well enough thought and designed…

    As a sport that relies a lot on its “community” spirit, I think its essential to get the athletes involved in the grand design of an anti-doping program for mountain/trail running, even more considering that there are multiple ruling authorities around. Eventually, considering that you have always been prompt and up to speak about that matter, defend this sports integrity and considering that how far your voice spreads in that community, you could be the main character to start assessing that matter (another grand poll maybe or any other supervision tool ?).

    Great job anyway Ian,
    Cheers

  5. Pingback: Ultramarathon Daily News, Wed, Aug 3 - UltrarunnerPodcast

  6. Hey Ian, thanks for posting this! To be clear to everyone: I know publicly posting a (CBC) blood test doesn’t prove I’m clean [for the record I am…and you can choose to believe me or not]. All it shows was that at the end of July ( at this time on one day) my hematocrit wasn’t abnormally high. With micro dosing likely being the choice tactic for dopers in endurance sport, I think we might need testing in the middle of the night (real surprise tests!) to be most effective. Bio passports as well. Even the window for WADA (and I may be wrong) is only like 5am-11pm-ish. The good thing with ITRA’s site is it lets an athlete list a TUE (in my opinion very gray area that could be abused) if they wish as well as public results. I also don’t have/need a TUE, it, but it is a step towards transparency, posting test results and getting the discussion going. (And i also realize I probably obsess about this way too much because it is my job…a way to make a living right now…so I am very biased). Thank you for your support!
    -Sage

  7. Pingback: How Do We Keep Doping Out of Trail Running? by Outside Online | iancorless.com – Photography, Writing, Talk Ultra Podcast

  8. Pingback: #EPO #CALISTO #UTMB – Statement from COMPRESSPORT | iancorless.com – Photography, Writing, Talk Ultra Podcast

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s