Court of Arbitration for Sport upholds the ruling of the AIU and confirms her 4 year ban from the sport effective from January 2021.

Shelby Houlihan, the US record holder in both the 1500m and the 5000m, has lost her appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The Athletics Integrity Unit had originally suspended her after a positive sample for nandrolone, the performance enhancing steroid.

Houlihan has vigorously denied these claims throughout, claiming that the positive test must have been the result of a contaminated burrito she had purchased and eaten the day prior to the test. In June, when the news of her ban broke, she said, “I don’t think I should be banned for something I didn’t do.”

This has since come to be decided after both World Athletics and Shelby Houlihan agreed for the matter to be determined at the CAS which involved the appointment of a mutually agreeable arbitrator responsible for deciding the matter after hearing evidence and testimony from both parties.

The summary of World Athletics, the governing body of the sport and named as claimant in this recent hearing, in their response to Shelby’s explanation that she had ingested this substance via a contaminated burrito, made the following key points:

  1. That Shelby would have had to have been served pork at the relevant truck, despite admitting that she ordered beef.
  2. The pork consumed could not have been a ‘normal’ pork product ordered but, specifically, uncastrated boar.
  3. As uncastrated boar enters the food chain in the USA through completely different channels than pork, the specimen can only have been a cryptorchid (a boar with undescended testicles).
  4. Such cryptorchids are a small minority of uncastrated boards that, in addition, must have had elevated androgen levels, which would be abnormal for 6-month-old pigs.
  5. The Athlete has alleged that she ate pork stomach. Pork stomach for the purposes of human consumption is such that only the outer muscle remains. Even if a cryptorchid did have elevated androgen levels, those are not found in the muscle, but only in specific parts (such as kidneys, testes, or liver). Pork stomach has one of the lowest androgen levels.
  6. The concentration of nandrolone was 2 to 3 times higher than the values reported in the scientific literature after the ingestion of much more significant quantities of meat of mature, uncastrated boar/
  7. The carbonic isotopic signature of the nandrolone detected in the urine is fundamentally inconsistent with the largely corn-based diet of commercial pigs in the US.
  8. Prof McGlone (expert witness on behalf of World Athletics) also stated that the chance of a cryptorchid ending up in the normal supply chain in the USA is far less than 1 in 10,000.

Shelby, in response also made detailed submissions and her case can be summarised in that it was “a false positive caused by boar offal and to find otherwise would result in a miscarriage of justice because she is not a cheater, as evidenced by her own testimony (including a lie detector), the character witnesses and the fact that there is no doping scenario that could explain this one-time presence of nandrolone in her urine sample.”

Shelby called on the other members of the Bowerman Track Club and others to testify in her favour including Karissa Schweizer, Matthew Centrowitz, Shalane Flanagan, Lindsey Frerichs and Courtney Frerichs.

What did CAS actually find

In reaching a decision, CAS concluded, on the balance of probabilities that she purchased and ate a burrito on 14th December 2020 which is likely to have been around 10 hours prior to the test. CAS also held that it is possible but undetermined that Shelby, despite ordering a beef burrito, was actually served a pork burrito instead.

As to whether it was from uncastrated boar, as this must be the case if Shelby is to be believed, CAS decided that whilst it was possible that the meat in the burrito she *might* have consumed came from an uncastrated boar it is improbable and, as a result, Shelby Houlihan had failed to demonstrate to the necessary standard that she had eaten a contaminated burrito. Perhaps most damning of all, CAS also held that Houlihan had failed to rebut the evidence of World Athletics which demonstrated that even if she had eaten boar and not pork, it is highly improbable that it would show elevated androgen levels in any case and thus explain the presence of nandrolone in her sample.

Interestingly, CAS also concluded that the carbon signature of the sample was not consistent with that found from commercial pork in the USA therefore suggesting that the nandrolone discovered came from somewhere else, most likely via oral tablets. They also dismissed the evidence on her polygraph test as inconclusive and insufficient to persuade them that her ingestion was not intentional. CAS stated that the questions asked, which specifically referred to nandrolone, were inappropriate given that she had stated that she had never even heard of nandrolone.

What happens now

CAS concluded that Houlihan had failed to demonstrate on the balance of probabilities that the presence of nandrolone was unintentional and as such must be regarded as intentional.

Houlihan is therefore disqualified for all competition from 15th December 2020 which includes forfeiture of medals, points and prizes. However, her 4 year period of ineligibility will run from 14th January 2021 for a period of 4 years.

The impact of this decision on the sport is difficult to assess at this stage, with many no doubt expecting her to be cleared. However, a read of the full judgement by CAS demonstrates that the evidence points overwhelmingly to this ingestion being intentional.

The consequence of that is deeply troubling. How could the USA’s best athlete, in the world’s blue-chip track club be intentionally doping without anyone knowing? Or did people know and did they turn a blind-eye? This decision raises significant questions for BTC, Jerry Schumacher, Houlihan’s teammates and, once again, the world’s most influential sports company, Nike.

Nike has been here before and quite how they will respond is yet to be known. We’ll be releasing a podcast in the coming days giving our view so stay tuned to our Instagram and website for more updates.