“When I got that email, I had to read it over about ten times and google what it was that I had just tested positive for. I had never even heard of nandrolone.” – Shelby Houlihan

The American 1500m and 5000m record holder, Shelby Houlihan, has tested positive for Nandrolone (androgen/anabolic steroid) and is staring down the barrel of a four year ban. She tested positive for the banned substance in an out-of-competition drug test in December 2020.  Houlihan is claiming that she is innocent and is blaming the positive test on a burrito she ate 10 hours prior to the test, that contained pork.

DOHA, QATAR – OCTOBER 03: Shelby Houlihan of the United States, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Faith Kipyegon of Kenya compete in the Women’s 1500 Metres semi final during day seven of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 at Khalifa International Stadium on October 03, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Houlihan received an email on January 14th, 2021, from the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), informing her a drug testing sample that she provided on December 15th, 2020 had returned as an Adverse Analytical Finding for a steroid called Nandrolone and that she is therefore subject to an immediate Provisional Suspension.

Houlihan had the following to say in response:

“When I got that email, I had to read it over about ten times and google what it was that I had just tested positive for. I had never even heard of nandrolone. I have since learned that it has long been understood by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) that eating pork can lead to a false positive for nandrolone, since certain types of pigs produce it naturally in high amounts. Pig organ meat (offal) has the highest levels of nandrolone. In the following 5 days after being notified, I put together a food log of everything that I consumed the week of that December 15th test. We concluded that the most likely explanation was a burrito purchased and consumed approximately 10 hours before that drug test from an authentic Mexican food truck that serves pig offal near my house in Beaverton, Oregon. I notified the AIU that I believed this was the source.”

Houlihan’s legal team requested an emergency hearing from the Court of Arbitration of Sport to resolve the situation before the Trials.  She underwent a polygraph test (which she says she passed) and submitted a hair sample test by a toxicologist (which she argues proves her innocence)  to present her case.  However, on June 11th she was informed by CAS that her appeal was unsuccessful and that her four-year ban had been upheld.
“I passed a polygraph test. I had my hair sampled by one of the world’s foremost toxicologists. WADA agreed that test proved that there was no build up of this substance in my body, which there would have been if I were taking it regularly. Nothing moved the lab from their initial snap decision. Instead, they simply concluded that I was a cheater and that a steroid was ingested orally, but not regularly. I believe my explanation fits the facts much better- because it’s true. I also believe it was dismissed without proper due process.”
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Houlihan, at just 28 years-of-age is in the prime of her career.  She made her first U.S. Olympic team in 2016, after finishing second at the 5000m trials. She went on to place 11th in Rio.  Since the 2016 Olympics, she has asserted herself as one of the most dominant U.S. middle distance runners, and she proved her class at the 2019 Doha world champs, placing  fourth in 3:54.99 in the 1500m,  an American record.
Paul Greene, who has worked with names like  Jarrion Lawson and Ajee Wilson, told reporters that the next possible step could be an appeal to the Swiss federal tribunal and is being seriously considered.

Jerry Schumacher, Houlihan’s coach, came to her defence with the following statement:

“Shelby was treated unfairly at every step of this process.  The AIU refused to charge her for months, despite no additional evidence being presented, opting to leave her in a provisionally suspended state until they were forced by Shelby’s legal team to charge her and agree to a hearing before the CAS so that Shelby could compete at the Olympic Trials. I believe if this had been USADA handling her case it would have been handled differently. At the very least, I’m confident she would have been treated fairly.  It is now my understanding that “friendly fire” casualties in the war on doping are acceptable, and we should all be outraged by that.  No clean athlete should have to go through what Shelby is right now, and we need to demand better for our athletes.”

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