Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Jessica Hardy and the Complicated World of Supplements

I know that there are mixed opinions out there on Jessica Hardy.  Her doping case has been a roller coaster ride from the beginning.  Some feel that her penalty reduction and now her recent reinstatement of eligibility to swim at the 2012 US Trials and Olympic Games is a slap in the face not only to Tara Kirk who arguably should have filled Hardy’s spot on the ‘08 team, but also to others who were not able to escape their fate after testing positive for a banned substance.  I personally believe that her positive test was due to a tainted supplement as she claimed but I understand if you don't buy it.  USA Swimming warns us that if we take a supplement we assume the risk.  I just feel it is never that simple and that each case needs to be looked at carefully.  There are a lot of people out there who are taking supplements with the assumption that they are safe.  Jessica Hardy had a guarantee from Advocare, but learned later that a guarantee doesn't matter much.

In a single ASCA newsletter I can see all in one glance an article about a doping suspension, a warning about sport energy drinks, and an advertisement for a sports drink that is endorsed by several of the greatest swimmers in US history.  The supplement that Jessica claims was tainted was endorsed by several swimmers, including Larsen Jensen.  Mixed messages anyone?  

The FDA does not regulate supplements the same way they control the ingredients in food. What products can you trust?  Even the stuff on the shelves at Wal-Mart is risky.  Add to it that we live in an age where ten year old kids are downing Red Bull before a race and adults are using Viagra for a competitive advantage.  There are a lot of gray areas in doping.

The drug list can be confusing.  The NCAA has a list of substances we are told to stay away from, but many don't realize that there is also a list of supplements that athletes can take that can not be given to them by their school or coaching staff.  These include anything that contains a “muscle-building component” such as protein above a small amount.  Did you know that Accelerade and Pure Sport, while they are legal, are not in the same category as Gatorade simply because they have additional protein? Pure Sport's entire marketing strategy is based on coaches getting a cut of the sales from their team. To make it even more complicated, some substances such as caffeine are allowed, but only up to a specific threshold.  

Things are even more wacky with Clenbuterol, the substance that Jessica Hardy tested positive, then negative, then positive for at the ‘08 Trials.  Clenbuterol has been found in several supplements in which it is not listed on the label.  There have even been cases recently in which cyclists have been able to prove that they tested positive due to contaminated meat.  It has been shown that up to 20% of meat processed in Mexico is treated with Clenbuterol and might test an athlete positive after a race.  You might have Clenbuterol in your system right now without knowing it. 

Remember the world-class ping-pong player who tested positive for a banned substance? -- well, it turns out that he was eventually exonerated because he was able to prove that tainted meat was the culprit.  I was totally chuckling, picturing a guy with one arm that was totally ‘roided out… but it turns out it was just trace amounts.  How disappointing.

Damn, I thought table tennis had finally hit the big time with it's first drug scandal.

Ross over at The Science of Sport posted recently that Clenbuterol has become so common and so complicated that it should be either removed from the banned substance list or at least be changed to be allowed at certain levels like caffeine, with penalties once that threshold has been passed.  There aren’t really any good ways to know if someone’s Clenbuterol doping was intentional or was caused by something as simple as a cheeseburger or a multi-vitamin.  Is it time to take a closer look at it?  Especially at the international level, unintentional Clenbuterol contamination is a real threat.

I have always felt for Jessica.  It would have been unreasonable to just let her off the hook, but she was facing a penalty that would have stretched over two Olympic cycles if they had followed it through to their original wording.  That would have been ridiculous.  She already missed one big opportunity and many people would have just hung it up after that.  

Jessica, you deserve another shot.  I am excited to see you make the most of it.  Thank you for sticking with it and good luck.


  1. Boo hoo, poor Jessica. Let me tell you something: by letting her off the hook, IOC have opened Pandora's box. I don't care if she took a banned substance willingly or not, she had it in her body and that's all IOC should be worried about. Otherwise, many other athletes can claim their innocence (rightfully so!) because they didn't have any idea they were being doped. What about them? Don't they deserve a second chance or it's only Jessica's privilege? If she (and anyone else) is guilty of doping, she is guilty of doping and she has to suffer all the consequences by IOC rules. Question remains: should someone be guilty of doping in the first place if they take a supplement that has traces of some banned substance? If the answer is yes, then please treat every athlete equally.

    This somehow reminds me of Phelps' case in 2009 and the ridiculous 3 month ban he got from USA Swimming. You can argue that if someone takes marihuana (not a performance enhancing drug) and it's off season, you shouldn't find that person guilty at all. Somehow, USA Swimming thought he was guilty but then they came up with 3 month ban, how very convenient for them. If he is guilty of taking a banned substance he is to be punished with at least 1 year ban, right? Wrong. He got 3 month ban so he could compete at Trials and Worlds that year. How very funny.

    What are we talking about here anyway? If we're going to punish (or not punish athletes) not by rules, but by the way we find it convenient, it's called anarchy.

  2. Yes, the Phelps 3 month ban was convenient for USAS. But let's get real: Phelps probably would have loved a one-year ban. So maybe USAS was giving him a punishment by NOT banning him the full year. "Make him swim! See how he likes THAT!"

  3. That is just silly, I agree that Phelps probably enjoyed the time he took off after the olympics but I dont think he wanted to be banned for one whole year. This guy is a proffesional, if he cant swim, he cant make any money, its that simple. Plus you can tell whatever you want about Phelps (and I'm the first one who likes to talk trash about him) but I'm sure he loooooves swimming. Who wouldnt if you can swim like that!!!

  4. What troubles me about Hardy's reduction isn't even the idea of "who's responsible for what they put in their bodies." Last I heard, the appeal was granted a reduction without ever producing a single tainted sample of the product in question. I don't know if they ever found one, but the appeal was certainly granted without finding one! That company oughta sue WADA and Jessica Hardy's butts back to the stone age.

  5. Wait so if I've got a splitting head ache right before my race and I took 2 pain killers and then got drug tested, would I be accused of doping or what? And if I get kicked off my swim team for taking gummy vitamins I'm going to be flipping pissed.