Age-group dop­ing at Iron­man level has be­come a hot topic, but it’s not as sim­ple as more test­ing equals cleaner sport, as Tim Hem­ing ex­plains

220 Triathlon Magazine - - START -

“We want fair rac­ing” was the tubthump­ing call of a re­cent on­line pe­ti­tion urg­ing Iron­man to up its drug-test­ing for age-group triath­letes. In ad­di­tion to 2,117 dig­i­tal sig­na­tures, there were also plenty of com­ments back­ing the move to thwart am­a­teur cheats. “AG Dop­ers need to be caught! The preva­lence of mid­dle-age men tak­ing testos­terone is crazy!” posted Jerry Ba­tolome. “Great pe­ti­tion. I’ve stopped rac­ing in Kona re­gard­ing this rea­son,” fol­lowed up Fabrice Houzelle. In a sub­se­quent 220 Twit­ter poll, 91% agreed test­ing should be in­creased. So given Iron­man is owned by Chi­nese con­glom­er­ate Wanda, shouldn’t it bow to cus­tomer de­mand and im­ple­ment it asap? Not quite.

Dop­ing is com­pet­i­tive en­durance sports’ big­gest blight, and I’m not naive enough to think it’s not preva­lent in the am­a­teur ranks. More­over, there’s a gi­ant ele­phant in the room and moral maze over the use of pre­scrip­tion drugs such as testos­terone that give older ath­letes a new lease of life off the course and un­fair ad­van­tage on it. But sim­ply up­ping the vol­ume of tests, par­tic­u­larly on podium per­form­ers post-race, as the pe­ti­tion calls for, will have less than pos­i­tive out­comes. The cost of drug-test­ing is pro­hib­i­tive. Iron­man re­fuses to re­lease to­tal spend pub­licly, but its head of anti-dop­ing, Kate Mit­tel­stadt, put it be­tween $1,200$1,500 per test, vary­ing de­pend­ing on lo­ca­tion of col­lec­tion and how sam­ples are an­a­lysed.

Given Iron­man’s ag­gres­sively for-profit stance, that cost would be pushed straight on to the con­sumer, the ma­jor­ity of whom aren’t rac­ing for age-group hon­ours and al­ready pay­ing up to £460 to com­pete (the price of Iron­man UK next year).

Bulk test­ing at events re­duces the bill, but given the de­tec­tion win­dow of sub­stances starts at less than 12 hours and only runs to five days, ac­cord­ing to re­search from the Univer­sity of Ade­laide, a pos­i­tive re­sult would show the ath­lete to be as much of a dope as a doper.

Most cheats are smarter than that, al­though not Mex­ico’s Luis Fer­nando Pel­cas­tre Ra­banal, who was stripped of last year’s 18-24 age-group world ti­tle, af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive for testos­terone pre-race. It made him just one of three vi­o­la­tions an­nounced so far in 2018 through Iron­man’s I AM True me­dia ac­count.

Iron­man de­serves credit for be­ing an early sig­na­tory of the WADA code, mak­ing it manda­tory for all en­trants to be avail­able for test­ing. But it’s also flawed by a lack of trans­parency on its over­all spend on anti-dop­ing and its com­pro­mised ‘re­sults man­age­ment’ pro­to­col that means it – not an in­de­pen­dent third party – de­cides how to act on lab­o­ra­tory re­sults.

So rather than sim­ply more tests, far bet­ter to cam­paign for an open com­mit­ment from Iron­man to put an agreed per­cent­age of rev­enue into anti-dop­ing, to fo­cus on in­tel­li­gence for tar­geted out-of-com­pe­ti­tion tests, and to lead the way in en­gen­der­ing a clean sport cul­ture.

“Far bet­ter for Iron­man to put an agreed per­cent­age of rev­enue into anti-dop­ing”


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