The doping manual for the 2020 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is now out.
In its place is a new sense of cooperation.
“A drug testing violation is extremely serious, likely resulting in substantial penalties and career damaging consequences,” it says. “For many reasons, precautions should be taken to avoid such a scenario. This includes a joint effort by mushers and the ITC (Iditarod Trail Committee.)”
The latter appears to have taken to heart the complaints voiced by four-time Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey after his dogs were found to be doped in 2017. He protested that Iditarod was supposed to protect mushers, not bust them.
The race is now advising mushers on how to avoid trouble.
“Prevention measures generally include the following: musher knowledge and respect for clearance times of commonly used medications,” the manual says.
It later goes into more detail.
Show up clean
“‘Clearance Times’ are defined as the amount of time that a medication must be discontinued prior to the race to be ‘cleared’ from a dog’s system,” the manual says.
“Clearance Times utilizing ‘older’ technology, could result in a positive drug test. In this era, for mushers to protect their dogs from a positive drug test, it is generally recommended that all medications containing prohibited substances be discontinued at least TWO WEEKS (Iditarod emphasis) prior to the race start, with the exception of ‘long-acting,’ injectable products, i.e., Betasone, DepoMedrol, Vetalog and others, which should be discontinued at least FOUR WEEKS (Iditarod emphasis) prior to the race, for sufficient Clearance Times.”
Betasone (Betamethasone) is a corticosteroid used in an injectable version to reduce inflammation. It can help dogs with minor injuries continue training.
DepoMedrol (Methylprednisolone) is another cortical steroid, this one derived from prednisolone. “‘DepoMedrol’ has been found useful in alleviating the pain and lameness associated with acute localized arthritic conditions and generalized arthritic conditions,” according to the website Drugs.com. “It has been used successfully to treat rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic arthritis, osteoarthritis, periostitis, tendinitis, synovitis, tenosynovitis, bursitis, and myositis of horses; traumatic arthritis, osteoarthritis, and generalized arthritic conditions of dogs.”
As with Betasone, it is usually used to allow dogs to continue training when injured, or rapidly recover from more serious injuries so they can resume training.
Vetalog (Triamcinolone acetonide) is similar to Betasone and DepoMedrol. The drug provides “rapid relief from pain and reduces inflammation and swelling,” according to Drugs.com. “Depending on the nature of the condition, Vetalog Parenteral may be injected intramuscularly, intra-articularly or intrasynovially. The usual pattern of response is improvement of motion and decrease of pain within 24 hours, followed by diminution of swelling.”
Though these drugs are an asset to mushers struggling to keep dogs running while dealing with the inevitable injuries that come when dogs, horses or people log long miles in training, they are not as useful in a racing sense as anabolic steroids, which help to build lean muscle mass.
Anabolics, which have popped up in all sorts of human endurance sports, are mentioned only in passing in the new rules.
“In addition, newer technology utilizing hair samples is being developed to detect drugs such as anabolic steroids and bronchodilators that may have been administered within the previous THREE MONTHS (Iditarod emphasis),” the manual says.
Some mushers, suspicious of others they think are using anabolics, have pushed for such a test, but it is still in the development stage, and it is unclear whether it will ever come into use.
Compared to human-powered sports, which employ extensive out-of-competition testing and maintain so-called “biological passports” to catch drug cheats, Iditarod is lenient. It does no out-of-competition testing and makes no attempt to monitor what is done with or to dogs before or after what it calls The Last Great Race.
In the past three decades, it has publicly admitted catching only one musher with a doped team – Seavey – and the race later apologized to him, saying it believed him when he insisted he didn’t do it despite the race still having no clue as to who, if not Seavey, might have doped the dogs.
A detailed, pharmacological investigation never publicly revealed and officially ignored by Iditarod concluded the pain-killer Tramadol found in Seavey’s dogs was most likely administered within an hour of a drug test in Nome.
Seavey handlers were at that time with his dogs, which would tend to undermine his repeated claims he was sabotaged by animal-rights activists – a claim most Iditarod watchers consider farfetched – or a competitor.
Doping authorities say the drugs could have been administered accidentally by someone on team Seavey unaware the musher had asked for the maximum time allowed after the finish of the race before testing, or they could have been administered intentionally to cover up an earlier use along the last leg of the trail from White Mountain to Nome.
Seavey like most competitors accused of doping – from defrocked Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong to former marathon-great-turned-running-coach Alberto Salazar – denies doping, but there is no way to determine if he is telling the truth.
Only days ago the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) handed Salazar, now the head coach of the Nike Oregon Project, a four-year ban for trafficking in performance-enhancing drugs, a charge he has for years denied.
“…It would be incorrect to say that the news came as a huge surprise,” Martin Fritz Huber wrote at Outside Online. “Indeed, the charges against Salazar, which include administering illegal quantities of L-carnitine (a naturally occurring substance that converts fat into energy), trafficking testosterone (a banned substance), and tampering with the doping control process, have already been reported on in the past. Seen in this light, the big news isn’t so much that Salazar has violated anti-doping rules, but that he finally has to suffer the consequences.”
Testosterone is one of the drugs most often mentioned as an Iditarod dog booster. No musher has ever been caught administering it to dogs.
Unlike the USADA; the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI), which polices horse and greyhound racing; the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS), which tries to control drug cheating in a variety sled dog events other than Iditarod, and the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Iditarod had an enviable record of never catching anyone doping up until the Seavey case.
Why it decided to publicly single out a doped team in 2017, let alone let a change in the rules mushroom into the outing of the 30-year-old musher many considered the race’s poster boy, has never been clear. Five reliable sources have told craigmedred.news there have been other drug positives that went unreported, and at a closed-door meeting of Iditarod mushers Seavey is said to have expressed the view that it was unfair that the race was singling him out for the alleged use of Tramadol, a relatively mild pain killer, when “everyone knew” there were far more potent drugs being used by those hoping to win Iditarod.
The race has shown little interest in pursuing those claims. It last year sacked the toxicologist running its doping program and has yet to replace him with a new authority on doping.
Meanwhile, the rules were rewritten to do away with “strict liability” and put more bodies between mushers and any public disclosure of doping.
The 2020 rules call for a Drug Testing Review Panel (DTRP) to convene to “commence an investigation” into any positive drug test flagged by toxicologists analyzing the limited number of urine samples taken from Iditarod dogs during the race.
That group will then decide whether a doping violation has taken place using a new standard.
“The standard of proof shall be whether the evidence has established an anti-doping rule (Rule 39) violation to the comfortable satisfaction of the Drug Testing Review Panel, bearing in mind the seriousness of the allegation,” the plan says. “This standard of proof in all cases is greater than a mere balance of probability but less than proof beyond a
Should the review panel decide there was a doping violation, the issue gets forwarded to the Iditarod’s board of directors.
The panel, the rule says, will then “close the investigation with no further action. Upon determining that a violation has occurred, the DTRP will prepare a report of its findings and a recommendation for action to the ITC Board.
“The ITC Board has the sole discretion and authority to make any final determination regarding any antidoping rule violation and regarding the imposition of any sanction for such violation.
“The ITC Board will, in the exercise of its authority, give due consideration to the report and recommendation made by the DTRP, the musher’s explanation of events and acceptance of responsibility, the record and results of any appeal and hearing, the severity of the violation, any previous record of rule violations or disciplinary
action, and the effect of the violation on the health and welfare of the dogs and on the fairness of the competition.”
There is no mention of the Board’s inherent conflict of interest given that Iditarod boards have long treated protection of the image of the race as their prime directive.
Also unmentioned is whether the Board will publicly reveal any disciplinary actions or drug use believed to have given a musher an unfair advantage.
CORRECTION: This is a revised version of an earlier story. It was edited to make it clear Dallas Seavey was a musher with a doped team.