Doping news was flooding the international world of sports on Monday as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race disappeared into the wild beauty of the Alaska Range and gained some distance from its doping issues at last.
Elsewhere it was not so pretty.
First there was “Icarus,” a film about systemic doping in the Russian Olympic training program, Sunday winning the Oscar for best documentary at the Academy Awards.
Bonnie D. Ford at ESPN has described it as “a documentary that deepens understanding of how easily the global anti-doping system was gamed.”
On the heels of this came a Monday report from the United Kingdom’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that was being called “a damning indictment of British Cycling, Team Sky and their principal, Dave Brailsford” in a sport – cycling – where authorities were thought to have doping under control.
“The report, almost three years in making, and released for public consumption on Monday, set out a detailed analysis of the medical practices used and abused by both British Cycling and Team Sky, and shed further light on their dwindling credibility through the eyes of the Committee,” reported Cycling News. “There was also the inclusion of new evidence, and a startling testimony that indicated the Committee’s belief that Team Sky riders, other than Bradley Wiggins, were treated with corticosteroids out of competition in order to shed weight ahead of the 2012 Tour de France.”
Corticosteroids are drugs like Betasone (betamethosone) and Dep-Medrol (methylprednisolone). These are drugs the Iditarod Trail Committee specifically warned mushers to make sure had cleared their dogs systems before this year’s race.
The UK Sports Committee suggested Team Sky, which has won the Tour de France in five of the last six years, used corticosteroids to help pave the way to victory.
“An anonymous source who gave evidence to the Select Committee claimed that Wiggins and potentially other riders at Team Sky were using the substance in order to lose weight and improve their strength ahead of the Tour de France,” Cycling News said.
Powerful anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids can be used to help injured dogs keep training and maintain strength.
Not quite cheating
The Committee did not say Team Sky broke any anti-doping rules, but clearly fingered the team for bending them. Former Tour de France champion Floyd Landis, who lost his title after he was caught doping, and then helped bring down former teammate Lance Armstrong, the race’s only seven-time winner before being stripped of all those victories, went a step farther.
“I don’t know why, in the report, they said that there was no doping violation. For me it absolutely falls into that category, by the very definition,” he told Cycling News.
“They used it for performance enhancement and there’s no ambiguity there. Wiggins should lose his Tour title. I can’t see how the sport authorities can let it slide….
“For a guy like Wiggins, who was too heavy and not a climber, corticoids would be just as beneficial as steroids, EPO and blood doping, because if he didn’t use it then he wouldn’t have been able to get that skinny, and all the EPO in the world wouldn’t have helped him get over the mountains.”
The 6-foot, 3-inch tall Wiggins went from being an 82 kilogram (180 pound) track rider at the 2008 Olympics to a 72 kilogram (158 pound) Tour de France rider in 2009 when he surprised the cycling world by finishing fourth in the race.
By the time the then-32-year-old cyclist won the tour in 2012, he was down to 69 kilograms (152 pounds), and his nickname had gone from Wiggo to Twiggo.
The key to Wiggin’s cycling success was being able to lose body weight with no loss of power. After the computer hackers Fancy Bears got into world doping files in 2016 and released Wiggins’ medical data, fellow English Tour rider David Millar, a former doper, said Wiggins ought to serve a ban from cycling.
“As I said in my book [Racing Through The Dark], I took EPO and testosterone patches, and they obviously produce huge differences in your blood and you felt at your top level,” Millar told The Telegraph. “Kenacort (a synthetic corticosteroid), though, was the only one you took and three days later you looked different.
“I remember it was one of the reasons I took sleeping pills because Kenacort put you on this weird high. It’s quite scary because it’s catabolic so it’s eating into you. It felt destructive. It felt powerful.”
Maximum power-to-weight ratio is a key to race performance whether for cars, people, or dogs. But the drug that showed up in the team of Iditarod runner-up Dallas Seavey last year was not a steroid, but the pain-killer tramadol.
The 30-year-old Seavey, already a four-time champ, has denied giving his dogs the drug and said he believes he was the victim of sabotage in the Nome dog lot between 10:30 and 11 p.m. on the night he finished the race.
He has since accused the Iditarod Trail Committee of trying to ruin his reputation. Wiggins voiced similar sentiments.
“This is malicious, this is someone trying to smear me,” he told the BBC.
What steroids have been detected in Iditarod dogs over the years is unclear. Race chief veterinarian Stuart Nelson in a pre-race interview said it is rare for drug testers to detect drugs, but a later handout to mushers said “it is not unusual to detect traces of ‘large animal’ (beef, horse, etc.) medications in urine drug testing.
“Every year we see 30-35 teams with trace amounts.”
The line about trace amounts was strangely missing from a drug-testing program summary ITC gave the Alaska media. The media and musher handouts were basically the same otherwise, although some paragraphs had been reorganized.
Whether the trace drugs were cortico or anabolic steroids is unclear.
Anabolic steroids – such as testosterone – are often used in cattle. Anabolics help make the animals beefy.
“These drugs boost production of growth-stimulating hormones that help the animal convert feed into muscle, fat, and other tissues more efficiently than they would naturally,” writes Julia Calderone at Business Insider.
“This artificial plumping process boosts the amount of meat that farmers can sell per animal, putting more money into their pockets.”
An implant gun can be used to shoot a hormone pill in between a cow’s skin and muscle where it will slowly dissolve to enter the bloodstream. Testosterone or other anabolic steroids could then show up in dogs fed large quantities of the meat.
Testosterone used to enhance performance or to keep female dogs from going into heat has, however, been a persistent problem in the greyhound racing world. Florida is now considering a state law to ban it.
It is but one of the dog-racing problems in the lower 48. Greyhound tracks – like the Iditarod – are in a struggle to survive as animal rights organizations continue to push to an end to dog-racing as a sport.
Greyhound racing would, however, appear far more vulnerable to attack than the Iditarod.
“In the past four years alone, at least 383 greyhounds have died at racetracks in Florida,” the Miami New Times reported in November. That is an average to close to 100 dogs a year.
The Iditarod had a good run of death-free years before the death of one dog on the trail in 2016 and four on the trail last year.
Race officials are optimistic about a death-free run to Nome this year. The dogs are carefully examined for health and heart issues before the race.
Craig, according to the results of the drug tests, posted on IOFC facebook page, from the two individual dogs each tested for tramadol @ approximately 254ng/mL but the test for the two dogs combined tested approximately 145ng/mL. This is the unredacted drug tests from OSU finally released by Iditarod.
You’ll need to explain to me again how you have concluded that both dogs from that combined test had tramadol in their urine.
A total of 1147 dogs, comprising 72 teams, started the Iditarod in 2017. A total of 196 urine samples were collected and analyzed – 71 in Anchorage, 46 in Fairbanks, 21 in Tanana and Nulato combined, and 58 in Nome. And 30-35 TEAMS (almost half) TESTED POSITIVE for “large animal” medications (aka prohibited substances).
That is a very high percentage of positives attributed to “contaminated meat” consumption based on a sample size of 17% or less (given the possibility some dogs were tested more then once). And the ITC’s vague one-page drug policy, Rule #39, clearly states: “Mushers are cautioned to ensure that food, meat, snacks and veterinary supplies do not contain prohibited drugs.” Despite 30-35 teams violating this policy every year, the ITC has no formally established “acceptable” thresholds for Steer-oid, etc. contamination in a dog’s urine.
It sure seems like the ITC’s anti-doping program is a hoax. A professional sporting organization should not subjectively enforce its own regulations. The ITC should thoroughly investigate every single one of these positive tests to determine the origin of contaminants, not casually sweep this information under the rug. How many mushers feed a diet of kibble, salmon and wild game and still have dogs testing positive for anabolics? Why is follow up testing not performed on these dogs? And why does the ITC neglect to test for, rather appears to endorse, out of competition use of prohibited substances?
Maybe the “Anti Doping” movement was really a failed attempt at slowing the direction towards “Performance Inhancing Drugs”?
Bryan Fogel who produced the film Icarus stated he obtained his PED’s from his American Doctor through a legal prescription.
He also states he does not see a problem with Testosterone use in older males, since he has seen many benefits in using it and Testosterone levels normally start to drop in males over 25 years old.
So, where are competitive sports headed if we are learning that all of our “winners” were “dopers” and PED’s are here to stay?
There are currently over 3.4 million legal Tramadol perscriptions in U.S. today…even my 90 year old grandmother gets Tramadol from her doctor…she says “It helps me move around the house better and get out on more errands”.