Track’s testos­terone rules ques­tioned

Re­searchers say flaws in study in­val­i­date find­ings

Santa Fe New Mexican - - SPORTS - By Jeré Long­man

Re­searchers have found flaws in some of the data that track and field of­fi­cials used to for­mu­late reg­u­la­tions for the com­pli­cated cases of Caster Se­menya of South Africa, the two-time Olympic cham­pion at 800 me­ters, and other fe­male ath­letes with nat­u­rally el­e­vated testos­terone lev­els.

Three in­de­pen­dent re­searchers said they be­lieved the mis­takes called into ques­tion the va­lid­ity of a 2017 study com­mis­sioned by track and field’s world gov­ern­ing body, the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Ath­let­ics As­so­ci­a­tions, or IAAF, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views and a pa­per writ­ten by the re­searchers and pro­vided to the New York Times.

The study was used to help de­vise reg­u­la­tions that could re­quire some run­ners to un­dergo med­i­cal treat­ment to lower their hor­mone lev­els to re­main el­i­gi­ble for the sport’s in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, like the Sum­mer Games.

The re­searchers have called for a re­trac­tion of the study, pub­lished in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study served as an un­der­pin­ning for rules, sched­uled to be en­acted in Novem­ber, which would es­tab­lish per­mit­ted testos­terone lev­els for ath­letes par­tic­i­pat­ing in women’s events from 400 me­ters to the mile.

“They can­not use this study as an ex­cuse or a rea­son for set­ting a testos­terone level be­cause the data they have pre­sented is not solid,” one of the in­de­pen­dent re­searchers, Erik Boye of Nor­way, said Thurs­day.

The IAAF has up­dated its re­search, which was pub­lished last week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. “The IAAF will not be seek­ing a re­trac­tion of the 2017 study,” the gov­ern­ing body said in a state­ment. “The con­clu­sions re­main the same.”

But the state­ment did lit­tle to dampen crit­i­cism by the in­de­pen­dent re­searchers. The IAAF seems “bound to lose” an in­tended chal­lenge by Se­menya to the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport, a kind of Supreme Court for in­ter­na­tional ath­let­ics, said Boye, a can­cer re­searcher and an an­tidop­ing ex­pert.

The IAAF has ar­gued that rules gov­ern­ing testos­terone lev­els are needed to level the play­ing field and to re­duce an un­fair ad­van­tage gained in some women’s events by ath­letes with so-called dif­fer­ences of sex­ual de­vel­op­ment. The study was only one facet of 15 years’ worth of field study, the IAAF said.

Dr. Stephane Ber­mon, the IAAF’s se­nior med­i­cal and sci­en­tific con­sul­tant and a co-au­thor of the 2017 study, last week ac­knowl­edged some er­rors in the data in an email sent to one of the in­de­pen­dent re­searchers. But Ber­mon added in the email, ob­tained by the Times, that the mis­takes “do not have sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the fi­nal out­comes and con­clu­sions of our study.”

Karim Khan, edi­tor-in-chief of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, did not re­spond to emails seek­ing com­ment.

The dis­puted study ex­am­ined re­sults from the 2011 and 2013 world track and field cham­pi­onships. It found that women with the high­est testos­terone lev­els sig­nif­i­cantly out­per­formed women with the low­est testos­terone lev­els in events such as the 400 me­ters, the 400-me­ter hur­dles and the 800 me­ters, which dis­till speed and en­durance.

In ex­am­in­ing the study’s re­sults from those races, plus the 1,500 me­ters, the in­de­pen­dent re­searchers said they found that the per­for­mance data used in the anal­y­sis was anoma­lous or in­ac­cu­rate 17 per­cent to 33 per­cent of the time.

The er­rors in­cluded more than one time recorded for the same ath­lete; re­peated use of the same time for in­di­vid­ual ath­letes; and phan­tom times when no ath­lete could be found to have run a re­ported time. Also in­cluded were times for ath­letes who were dis­qual­i­fied for dop­ing.

“I think ev­ery­one can un­der­stand that if your data set is con­tam­i­nated by as much as one-third bad data, it’s kind of a garbage-in, garbage-out sit­u­a­tion,” said one of the in­de­pen­dent re­searchers, Roger Pielke Jr., the di­rec­tor of the Sports Gov­er­nance Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado.


Re­searchers have called for a re­trac­tion of a study that could be used to keep South Africa's Caster Se­menya from com­pet­ing in women’s track events be­cause of unusu­ally high testos­terone lev­els.

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