Time for Shelby Houlihan to come clean
Two things ought to happen now that the Court of Arbitration for Sport has issued a technically detailed but, in the end, common-sense ruling in the matter of Shelby Houlihan, the American distance runner, banning her for four years for nandrolone — through January 2025 — while thoroughly rejecting the ridiculous burrito defense.
One, Houlihan ought to come clean.
What most likely happened?
We don’t and won’t know until Houlihan admits whatever it was. But, see paragraph 128 of this very thorough 44-page ruling, citing the head of the Montreal anti-doping lab, Christiane Ayotte, who notes that oral precursors of nandrolone can readily be bought on the internet, even on Amazon, and that a chemical signature very much like the one Houlihan tested for was obtained five years ago when that very lab tested a product it had bought called “Nor-Andro Max.”
Two, all the journalistic sheep who wanted to believe, who maybe still want to believe despite the overwhelming evidence against Houlihan, that there was no way, just no way, a white American distance runner affiliated with the Bowerman Track Club could test positive — all these people, and the readers they misled, ought to take a crash course in Doping 101 and the things people will say and do, meaning anything and everything, to avoid getting busted.
This entire saga, truthfully, has been pathetic.
This burrito defense has, from the get-go, stretched the bounds of credulity, and anyone who bought it — even for a second — needs to undergo a real-world moron test.
Do you also believe pigs can fly? (‘Pigs’ used advisedly here.) Do you think Abraham Lincoln is a vampire slayer? Are you super-confident you can beat up a grizzly bear?
Almost every single facet of Houlihan’s defense was — is — absurd.
To be clear: not blaming Houlihan’s lawyers for aggressively scheming up any and every avenue possible. That’s what they’re there for.
But the three-judge panel went to great length — again, 44 pages — to refute, carefully, virtually everything about it.
Houlihan took a lie detector test.
She was asked, did you at any time knowingly ingest nandrolone? And answered no. She was also asked, did you intentionally ingest the drug nandrolone? And said, no.
But as the panel pointed out, here’s what she wasn’t asked: did you take doping substances at the material time?
Houlihan also submitted to hair analysis. All involved agreed that it proved that nandrolone injections could be excluded. But, the panel found, that analysis failed to take into account oral (so we’re all on the same page here, something you eat or drink) precursors of nandrolone, such as “19-nor-DHEA” and “nor-Andro.”
Which is why it boggles the mind, truly, that an outlet such as Women’s Running would, in the second paragraph of its account of this ruling, prattle on this way:
“CAS decided that although Houlihan was a credible witness and brought ‘compelling character witness evidence in support of her defense,’ she failed to establish the source of the nandrolone that was detected in her urine.”
This is the second paragraph?!
Who cares if Shelby Houlihan is or is not a nice person and can or cannot get through a lie detector when asked certain questions? That’s all but irrelevant when it comes to the science in this case. As for her “compelling character witness evidence?” Ha! That’s a complete misread of what is what. Offering statements or testifying on her behalf were, among others, her former boyfriend, Matthew Centrowitz, gold medalist in the men’s 1500 at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Courtney Frerichs, the surprise silver medalist in the women’s steeplechase a few weeks ago in Tokyo, and Karissa Schweizer, who competed in Tokyo in both the women’s 5k (11th) and 10k (12th), and if you don’t think the Athletics Integrity Unit took careful observation of who was in Houlihan’s inner circle, maybe you seriously do believe pigs can fly.
The first paragraph of the Women’s Running story, what in journalism circles is called the lede, also noted — accurately — the CAS observation that Houlihan’s explanation was “possible but unlikely.”
As if that were justification.
Everything in life is possible.
But here’s what CAS also said, and be mindful that the burden of proof in this matter was on Houlihan, and so if this were a math contest, she had to get to 50.1, but instead her defense “presupposes a cascade of factual and scientific improbabilities, which means that its composite probability is (very) close to zero.”
Herewith the cascade:
— Houlihan ordered a carne asada — that is, a steak — burrito at a food truck in Beaverton, Oregon, near Portland. For her defense to work, she would have had to have been served and eaten pork.
The entire defense rests on this premise. A wrong order. Which she then ate. But that’s not all.
— Because the pork would have not been ‘normal’ pork but, per the Houlihan defense, uncastrated boar.
— Except uncastrated boar gets into the U.S. food chain through completely different channels than pork. So for uncastrated boar to end up in the normal pork food chain, the boar must have been a specimen with undescended testicles. This is called ‘cryptorchid.’
At this point, this is already verging on bizarre if not crazy stupid. Undescended testicled boar. OK.
— Except there’s more. The cryptorchid is (or was) of a “small minority of uncastrated boars that — in addition — must have had elevated androgen levels.” That would be “abnormal” for 6-month-old pigs.
— More still. The pork product Houlihan allegedly ate, despite ordering steak, is pork stomach. Follow along here because this gets into butcher-level stuff. When people eat pork stomach, that stomach is stripped of the inner layer; only the outer muscle remains. Houlihan’s assertion was that uncastrated boars have elevated androgen levels. Except those are not found in the muscle. Those levels are found only in specific parts — the kidneys, testes or liver. Pork stomach, the panel said, has one of the lowest androgen levels.
— More science. The nandrolone metabolite levels in Houlihan’s urine were two to three times higher than the highest values in the literature after eating much more significant quantities of mature (uncastrated) boar — a product different from the alleged cryptorchid in question, which would have been slaughtered at six months.
— Agriculturally speaking, the carbon isotope signature of the metabolite in her urine was “fundamentally inconsistent” with the largely corn-based diet of commercial pigs in the United States.
— Finally, an expert witness said the chance of a cryptorchid ending up in the normal supply chain in the United States is “far less” than one in 10,000.
Beyond which, see paragraph 104 on page 30, and come on now, there’s this:
“The fact that IBP/Tyson (the plant where the food truck in Beaverton bought the pork meat from) does not operate a boar kill plant. Thus, it is ‘near zero chance’ that any boar meat would get mixed with conventional fresh pork products.”
All this leaves the obvious question, doesn’t it:
if the slaughterhouse doesn’t operate a boar kill plant, and thus there’s essentially no chance of boar meat getting in the food chain with pork other than, hmm, aliens dropping in from Galaxy Starchaser Nebula X9 to surreptitiously teleport it in there and so the food truck had a “near zero” chance of having boar meat on the night in question and, besides, Houlihan ordered a steak burrito, anyway — what really happened here?
Time for Shelby Houlihan to come clean.
She likely will dodge this opportunity until after the Swiss Federal Tribunal issues the final no-go — understand that the SFT takes up procedural matters, not substantive, so her chance of success there is, again, “near zero” — but she would do the right thing, now, by coming clean.
Time, too, for her supporters, defenders and enablers to see the light. It’s tough when your purported heroes get tagged for doping. But before all of you go out and buy Floyd Landis’ book about how he didn’t cheat to win the Tour de France — oops.
Some of us have been down this road before. This burrito defense — this was creative, indeed. But that didn’t make it any smarter, or better.
Pigs don’t fly. That’s the truth.
posted Saturday September 11th