As if the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race didn’t have enough trouble in the wake of the revelation that four-time champ Dallas Seavey had a doped dog-team in Nome last year, a report intended to clear Seavey suggests another musher had a dog pumped up on steroids in the 2017 race.
Toxicologist Patricia Williams claims in her 21-page report on the Seavey doping that among the drug-test related documents sent her was a “handwritten sheet” noting that “metandienone (anabolic steroid; performance enhancer)” was found in an Iditarod dog.
Williams contends it was not a Seavey dog. Metandienone, a testosterone-derived androgen also known as methandienone or methandrostenolone, is an old steroid long sold under the brand name Dianabol.
“Dianabol is so important because it helped give birth to the modern steroid movement. While not the first steroid to be used for this purpose, it was the most successful and quickly beat out the early competition that it was up against. Through Dianabol, an entire new generation of steroids would come into existence, spreading in popularity and use far greater than anyone ever thought,” according to the website Steroid Abuse.org.
“The 1950’s saw the then Soviet Union dominate the Olympics due to steroid use, showing just how powerful they could be. A steroid arms race resulted between the US and USSR, leading Dr. John Ziegler on the US side to release what would eventually become Dianabol.
“When Dianabol was first created, the goal in mind was to make sure that athletes would maintain the anabolic boosting properties of testosterone. A fast acting and powerful drug, Dianabol quickly became a common steroid among US athletes, resulting in more fair competition between the two nations.”
The drug was eventually banned in the U.S., but is still legal in Mexico and other countries. Popularly known as Dbol, it appears available online from suppliers shipping from outside the U.S.
Veteran mushers say it is the kind of drug that could be used to help build muscle mass on Iditarod sled dogs in training, or to help keep them from losing muscle mass if put on demanding training programs that can see them running multiple thousands of miles in the lead up to the 1,000 mile race from Willow to Nome.
And unlike an old favorite, Stanozolol, Dbol clears the system faster. It is undetectable 5 to 6 weeks after use is stopped, according to Steroidal.com, which bills itself as “the world’s most trusted website for anabolic steroids.” Stanozolol metabolites hang around in the system for two months.
“At this point,” said musher Pete Neilson, “the real story is now ‘Iditarod Dog Tests Positive for Steroids’.”
There is no doubt steroids were in use in the Iditarod in the past. Multiple sources inside Iditarod have confirmed that to craigmedred.news. And there are constant rumors within the sled dog world now about mushers continuing to dope dogs, primarily with testosterone.
Testosterone (Te) doping is a big problem in the world of greyhound racing, and a 2017 peer-reviewed scientific paper on a new testosterone-testing method underlined why: “Such doping cannot easily be confirmed, especially in male dogs owing to the natural presence of endogenous testosterone.”
The doping police are trying to come with a hair test to replace urine tests to look for Te because human nature being human nature, if there is a way to cheat and win and not get caught somebody is going to cheat.
And for good reason.
“Abundant research has shown the physiological effects of Te use: increased muscle size and strength, aerobic endurance, decreased fat mass, faster recovery from high exertion exercise, and increased muscular power,” P.J. Vanny and Dr. Jordon Moon wrote in the The Sport Journal in 2015. “These effects can translate individually or in combinations to assist athletes in nearly every sport….but the extent of any damage done to the body from long-term usage has yet to be solidified. Whether the pros outweigh the cons is an individual decision that may be based on individual morals, goals, fears, or ambitions.”
Given that some Iditarod mushers – far from all, but a few – look at sleddogs as expendable parts, and given that some Iditarod mushers have in the past been willing to risk their own lives in an effort to win the race, it impossible to avoid the conclusion that either someone in the Iditarod field is likely to dope dogs in hope of winning, or Iditarod mushers are the most upright, by-the-book, rule-following people on the planet.
A quick review of state court records would disabuse anyone of the latter notion. More than a few Iditarod mushers have over the years found problems hewing to the straight and narrow.
Against this backdrop, it is probable there’s a doper in the Iditarod field and likely more than one, but there are serious reasons to question whether Williams found the smoking gun of doping. She could simply be trying to further a narrative begun at the start of the Seavey affair to argue the 30-year-old star of The Last Great Race was unfairly singled out and mistreated.
Only hours after the public disclosure that Seavey’s dogs had been found doped in Nome, he was on youtube arguing that he had been “thrown under the bus” by Iditarod for disagreeing with board members. And now comes Williams to suggest she has found evidence of Iditarod doping ignored while race officials went after Seavey.
There are, however, reasons to question that conclusion.
Notes v. reports
Williams says that among the doping documents supplied the Seaveys by Iditarod was “a handwritten sheet that denotes other positive results with only one with a partial identification number.”
This is the sheet that lists Dbol. But the amount of Dbol found is not listed.
Those familiar with the testing procedures of Industrial Laboratories in Colorado say that technicians monitoring the sophisticated machinery at the lab will often note indications of what might be a possible doping positive based on deviations in machine readings during testing. They will then go back and look for a specific doping product.
Lab officials have not officially responded to several requests for information. Industrial is a U.S. Food Drug Administration certified laboratory that made the news in 2012 when it helped identify “demorphin,” a drug in “frog juice” being used to dope horses.
The lab, in the words of New York Times reporters Walt Bogdanich and Rebecca R. Ruiz, “tweeked its testing procedure” and helped finger more than 30 races from four states with horses juiced on “a powerful, performance-enhancing potion drawn from the backs of a type of South American frog.”
The lab is highly respected. It’s failure to quantify the amount of Dbol and two other drugs noted on the handwritten sheet raises questions as to whether it actually found the drugs, or simply thought they might be there only to discover they weren’t.
Drug testing is difficult and complicated, which is why the agent and attorney for now-disgraced Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong could for years proclaim his client innocent of doping accusations because Armstrong never failed a drug test despite being “the most-tested athlete in sports history.”
A dog driver in the Yukon Territory, Canada, and a volunteer on the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon, Pete Neilson years ago grew interested in doping due to his own connection to equestrian sports. He had an uncle who was a top horse trainer.
When the internet finally arrived in Neilson’s remote corner of the world seven years ago (he was until then on a radio phone), Neilson started following equestrian and sled dog sports online. It didn’t take him long to notice ongoing doping problems in the former and to start to suspect them in the latter.
“The issues are disheartening and more so as they started popping up in dogs with their attendant attitudes and excuses,” he messaged from his cold, isolated corner of North America. “I love watching them run, can’t do a whole lot about horse racing but maybe some little positive contribution to sled dogs.”
Neilson started querying the Quest about what he thought were less than adequate doping controls and began watching the Iditarod, and talking to fellow mushers. He found plenty of rumors of drug use.
He has been increasingly speaking out ever since. The Williams report, he said, only adds to existing suspicions by raising new questions and lots of them.
What other drugs have been detected in the Iditarod in recent years? Why is there another tramadol report for a significant amount of the drug that wasn’t publicly disclosed? And how did Seavey end up with doping data on dogs other than his own, as Williams contends?
“The drugs identified on the handwritten sheet…are not related to the Seavey team,” the Williams reports says.
Iditarod officials did not respond to a request for an explanation, although their public relations agency did release a statement on Friday defending the race’s anti-doping efforts. The statement didn’t say much.
It noted that Seavey-team doping data criticized by Williams was good enough that she used it to draw conclusions, albeit different ones, on when tramadol, a synthetic opioid, was administered to Seavey’s dogs. And it added that “the lab the ITC utilizes for its drug testing operates under criteria required and established by the Association of Official Racing Chemists. The criterion was followed explicitly and the lab and the ITC stand by the original results.”
Then it reiterated that Seavey was not penalized for his doped team and made another thinly veiled plea to the musher to make peace not war. Since Seavey launched an offensive against the Iditarod in general and the board of directors in particular the public relations approach of the organization toward Seavey could basically be summed up this way:
“All is forgiven; please shut up.”
On the attack
Seavey’s answer has been to a hire a high-power, San Fransisco, crisis-management firm known for its aggressiveness. Singer Associates founder Sam Singer’s “work has by now earned him such industry nicknames as ‘The Fixer’ and ‘Master of Disaster,'” Bonnie Chan wrote in a profile of him in Richmond Confidential.
“Sam Singer is the guy to call when you’re in a mess; and if you call Sam Singer, you truly must be in a mess.”
Seavey was in a mess when he called Singer. Singer coordinated a Seavey attack on the Iditarod. Neilson observed the situation is probably now too far gone to avoid even more controversy.
The 30-year-old, four-time champ Iditarod, arguably the Iditarod’s biggest star, has not only cracked open Pandora’s box; he’s smashed it. Aided by Singer and Williams, he appears to be leading a crusade to do nothing so much as bring down the Iditarod.
Seavey has called Iditarod management corrupt. On his behalf, Williams singled out “foul play” involving what she contends is previously undisclosed doping in the Iditarod, something Seavey has only alluded to in previous interviews.
“In my report is the following paragraph for those who doubt that anyone would engage in foul play,” she posted in a comment at craigmedred.news. “Perhaps you would explain why these results received from the lab in discovery were not disclosed or considered violations:
“A handwritten sheet denotes other positive results with only one with a partial identification number. The drugs identified on this handwritten sheet are metandienone (anabolic steroid; performance enhancer), naloxone (opioid antagonist), theobromine (found in chocolate), and tramadol. The partial ID number is -014 and denotes a concentration of 237 ng/ml for tramadol. In a Certificate of Analysis Report #Rpt-170323028 for the Iditarod-Nome Race Date: March 15, 2017 the following number is listed:
“…Results 17031713-014, E225586, Urine: ‘Acceptable’ ‘No Violation’ This specimen has the same partial ID number of -014 with a result of 237 ng/ml as listed on the handwritten sheet.”
A request to the Iditarod to answer the question posed by Williams went unanswered. It must here again be noted the Williams report offers no evidence that suspected Dbol, naloxone or theobromine positives were actually confirmed in any sample.
There is, however, that tramadol report that Williams says is not Seavey’s which shows a level of 237 ng/m. That is higher than the levels reported for all but one of the Seavey dogs in Nome.
Why that tramadol positive was not mentioned by the race is unknown. Iditarod did not respond to a query as to whether the race handles doping case differently when only one dog is involved versus a whole team, which is believed to be the case with Seavey.
With all four of the four dogs sampled in his seven-dog team coming up positive, the statistical probability is greater than 99 percent that all the dogs were given tramadol.
The Williams report goes to great lengths to argue the drugs were given sometime after the race finish and not during the race. That is possible; it is also debatable among experts.
The Williams report also singles out a naxolone positive apparently unrelated to Seavey’s dogs.
“Of particular concern is the specimen with naloxone as listed in the handwritten sheet,” Williams wrote. “Naxolone is used for the emergency treatment of opioid overdose or to reverse the effects of opioid sedation in animals.”
The implication is clear: Someone other than Seavey may have so juiced a dog that the musher had to give it an antidote to treat it for an overdose. That would seem unlikely in the context of Iditarod. A musher would have to be planning to use a lot of tramadol along the trail to even think about bringing along naxolone in case too much were used.
If naloxone was in play – which that handwritten sheet only hints at -there is another possibility. Naloxone is contained in the drug Talwin NX, a pain-killer that combines pentazocine and naloxone. It is not a common veterinary drug, but it is available as such.
The e-book of “Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics” describes it as a “mild to moderate” pain killer recommended for the treatment of post-operative pain. Much the same has been said of tramadol.
The hints at the possibilities of all these drugs in dogs do raise more questions about Iditarod doping.
Williams, unlike the Iditarod, expressed a willingness to answer questions about doping. And she responded to emails from craigmedred.news, although she was not always able to provide much information.
She said Friday she could provide no help in identifying an unnamed Veterinarian X helping Seavey in the Nome dog lot after the race, saying “I really do not know if there was a Vet or who he/she would be if there is.”
Vet X – the veterinary equivalent of an earlier doping Musher X who turned out to be Seavey – was identified in late October in a taped interview Seavey did with KTVA reporter John Thomson. During that interview, Seavey categorized tramadol as a “heavy sedative” – though it is not – and suggested someone had slipped the drug to his dogs before their arrival in Nome.
“How are your dogs?” Thompson asked Seavey. “Did you notice anything? Did, uh, I mean…”
“In Nome, after, after the finish in Nome, um, we talked to another vet that we worked with in the past, um,” Seavey said, “and yeah our crew and that vet were working closely together ‘cuase (the dogs) seemed (pause) down. And um, this, this was something that when this whole thing came up, it’s like;
“‘Oh, now I see what was going on. They were hit with a heavy sedative.’
“So we had them on heavy electrolytes. We were trying to get them to bounce back. Dogs that are usually very animated and perky aren’t wanting to get up and eat, um, something’s, something was strange.
“It was a short window. We got them on the electrolytes. We got them on all this stuff, and they seemed to bounce back. It’s like, OK, maybe it was just a hard race, but I’ve never seen them finish like that, nor after the finish be like that.”
If Seaveys dogs were doped in the Nome dog lot after the race, as the Williams report argues, a Vet X trying to help Seavey with an exhausted team in need of recovery would seem a likely suspect to have administered the drugs.
The Iditarod did not respond to a request asking if it could identify Vet X.
But then again, if the dogs were doped before they got to Nome why would a vet be giving them more tramadol in the dog lot?
The Seavey doping story has been confused since near the beginning by the two versions of what happened told by the musher himself. The version quoted above had the dogs “hit with a heavy sedative” before the finish.
The “most likely scenario,” he told Alaska Dispatch News reporter Tegan Hanlon in a later, videotaped interview, was that “somebody had this drug, and was standing there, and the dog yard is vacant at 10:30-11 at night in Nome. there’s not a soul around, and took the opportunity.”
Hanlon did not ask what led Seavey to change his story. The mainstream media has asked few, if any, hard questions of Seavey since his doped team was first reported, chosing instead to follow along with his claim that he is the victim in the case.
That is certainly possible, but it is equally possible he doped his dogs. And there is room for a lot of legitimate, scientific debate as to where and when that might have happened.
The Williams report uses the data from a study on six beagles to calculate the ratio of tramadol metabolites to the amount of parent drug likely to be found in dog urine over time. From this, Williams concluded Seavey’s dogs were doped within two to four hours of being tested in Nome.
Seavey says this conclusion clears him of doping along the trail, a claim parroted by some in the Alaska media. KTUU news reporter Sidney Sullivan Friday labeled the Williams report an “independent toxicology report that clears Dallas Seavey of dog doping allegations.”
Not even Williams goes that far. Her conclusion as to the time the doping took place is reported in “Section 6.0 Opinions.” Her view is offered not as fact, but as one professional opinion in a case on which others have offered differing professional opinions.
The facts are few.
What is known is that Seavey arrived at the finish line in Nome at 6:32 p.m. on March 14 to finish as the runner-up to his father, Mitch, in the 2017 Iditarod. By prior arrangement with Iditarod, Dallas’s dogs were not to be drug tested for six hours, the maximum break allowed under Iditarod rules.
Dallas said he wanted to give the dogs time to rest after some blood was drawn for tests he was having personally done on the dogs. The six-hour limit pushed the drug testing time back to about a half-hour past midnight. Williams’ calculations on tramadol doping would thus put the time of drug administration at between 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. on March 14.
This is near the 10:30 – 11 p.m. window Seavey earlier gave the Daily News, although how he arrived at that conclusion has never been disclosed.
The Williams reports says her calculations are based on the “half-lives for drugs and metabolites for the resident time within tissues used in post-mortem analyses of time of administration of the drug, and also elimination time for drugs and metabolites to be found in the urine.”
While good baseline data for making such calculations may be available for humans, there is no baseline data for how sled dogs process tramadol, and only limited data for dogs in general. It is well-documented that dogs do not metabolize the synthetic opioid tramadol the way humans do. The dogs don’t breakdown the components in the drug that provide the opioid high.</
Morrie Craig, the doping analyst for the Iditarod, has said the differences and the lack of data specific to sled dogs, especially fatigued and dehydrated sled dogs, is what makes it impossible to accurately narrow to a couple of hours the time when the tramadol might have been administered to Dallas's dogs.
Blood taken from Dallas's dogs when his team arrived in the dog lot in Nome last year could have definitively answered the question of whether his dogs were doped before Nome or after the dogs crossed the finish line.
From White Mountain until the time that blood was drawn, the dogs were under the watchful eye of Dallas.
But Seavey did not have the blood screened for tramadol, and what happened to the blood is unclear.
"The blood could have been preserved with appropriate procedures for later testing if anyone had suspected this would be necessary," Williams said. "By the time the Seaveys learned there was a problem, it was too late because the specimens were discarded as is usual in a laboratory.
"Whole blood hemolyzes at room temperature and eventually upon refrigeration. It is usually discarded the next day after collection as the cells would be distorted and many constituents diffuse out of the red blood cell membrane into the serum or plasma and analyses are affected. Serum or plasma must be refrigerated or frozen on the same day to save for drug testing. Drug concentrations for most degrade at room temp and also on refrigeration. In general they are stable when frozen."
Dallas was informed of the positive drug test on April 10, according to the Iditarod. Whether the blood had actually been fully analyzed and destroyed by then as Williams suggests can only be known for certain by talking to the lab doing the work.
In any number of interviews since the doping controversy erupted, Dallas has stated that he would not have doped his dogs given the blood tests planned in Nome, but experts on drug testing said that is a red herring.
The blood tests Dallas was having done had nothing to do with drug use. The blood tests would not result in a discovery of doping unless someone was told to test for tramadol.
A given in chemical testing of any sort is that you only find the things for which you are looking. Whether Iditarod made any attempt to get its hands on the blood after it became aware of the positive urine test only days after the end of the race is unknown.
Seavey has publicly stated the Iditarod should have tried to protect him from what he contends was sabotage. The Idtiarod learned of the tramadol-laced urine on March 20 – five days after he finished the race.
The inability of anyone to definitively determine when his dogs were doped is what has made such a mess of the Seavey affair.
To shift the focus of the controversy, Seavey, his handlers and some Alaskans have tried to place the blame for Iditarod’s latest problem on Outside agitators. Williams pushed that theme in her report.
“The evidence in this report warrants an investigation for unknown person(s) with a deliberate intent to compromise the integrity of the Iditarod,” she writes in bold face in that “Opinions” section.
As the section heading duly notes, the statement is an opinion. There is no evidence in the Williams report or elsewhere to finger a deliberate attempt “to compromise the integrity of the Iditarod,” or to identify a suspect or suspects.
And the public disclosure of a doped team doesn’t “compromise the integrity of the Iditarod” as a matter of fact; the test compromises the integrity of Dallas, the musher with the doped team. In a strange way, the reported doping might even have enhanced the integrity of the Iditarod.
In the past, “everyone thought they just threw the pee away,” said an Alaska woman with connections to animal rights organizations. She asked not to have her named use out of concerns for personal safety.
Some animal-rights groups do want to stop the Iditarod, but they have historically focused their opposition to the race on the number of dogs that die along the trail.
Alaska sources connected to Outside animal-rights organizations said they’ve never even heard a rumor of anyone wanting to dope Iditarod dogs for publicity reasons. The belief in the animal rights community, they added, was that it would be a waste of time because the Iditarod anti-doping program was no more than a show put on to make it look like the race was drug testing.
That belief is not unrealistic. Until this year, despite decades of testing, the Iditarod had never publicly reported a doping positive. No records can be found indicating any sports organization has gone as long as Iditarod without a report of a doping positive.
Even badminton and ping-pong have reported doping. That the Iditarod would go decades without a doping positive among competitors only to have its first-ever doping emerge as the result of sabotage by an Outside group is not impossible, but it stretches the limits of believability.
When it comes to Iditarod, too, Williams has admitted she’s not just a scientist. She’s a fan. That distinction brings with it all the attendant baggage. Williams volunteered to write the Seavey report because she wanted to help the The Last Great Race.
“I rode in the Iditarod 2017 as an Iditarider and brought three of my grandchildren who also rode. I bid and won four mushers,” she posted at craigmedred.news. “I believe this race embodies the very spirt of Alaska and its wonderful citizens including the beautiful athletic huskies. I do pro bono work for criminal prosecution as a public service in matters of drug and alcohol. Metabolites do not lie. I certainly can and did do the same pro bono service to help protect the integrity and security of the Iditarod.”
As the Iditarod officials watch the smoke rising around Saturday’s ceremonial start of the 2018 race in downtown Anchorage, they surely can’t avoid wondering if her idea of saving the race is to burn to the ground an operation its once brightest star has called corrupt.
Dallas, meanwhile, is off to Norway to race there.
“While we will continue to avoid speculation on the circumstances surrounding the positive drug tests,” Iditarod chief veterinarian Stu Nelson said in that Friday press statement, “we welcome bringing this issue to a conclusion and wish Dallas the best of luck at the upcoming Finnmarksløpet and look forward to welcoming him back to a future of Iditarod racing.”
One has to wonder whether there isn’t just a little too much wishful thinking in that statement. The Seavey affair, and the Iditarod infighting it has spawned, appears to have reinvigorated opponents of the 1,000-mile-race to Nome who contend the competition these days asks too much of the dogs.
And Canadian Fern Levitt, the director of the controversial movie “Sled Dogs,” doesn’t seem to be letting go of her campaign against the Last Great Race. Now teamed with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, she continues to crisscross the continent pushing the documentary critical of the Iditarod and commercial sled dog operations.