Shelby Houlihan, an American record holder for distance running, was banned from the sport for four years after testing positive for an anabolic steroid.
But she blames a pork burrito for the positive test.
Houlihan holds the American records in 1,500- and 5,000-meter events, and she finished 11th at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in the latter race. The 28-year-old, though, wrote Monday night on Instagram that the Athletics Integrity Unit banned her from the sport after testing positive for nandrolone, a steroid that can be found in pork.
She appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but Houlihan wrote that she heard June 11 that the court “did not accept my explanation of what had occurred.” The Athletics Integrity Unit announced Houlihan’s ban Tuesday morning.
“I feel completely devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed by the very sport that I’ve loved and poured myself into just to see how good I was,” Houlihan wrote. “I want to be very clear. I have never taken any performance enhancing substances. And that includes that of which I am being accused.”
The saga began Dec. 15, according to Houlihan’s Instagram post, when she took a drug test. She discovered Jan. 14 in an email from the Athletics Integrity Unit that she tested positive for nandrolone.
“I had to read it over about ten times and google what it was that I had just tested positive for,” Houlihan write. “I had never even heard of nandrolone.”
She later learned that eating pork can lead to these positive tests, with offal — pig organ meat — containing the highest levels of nandrolone. She recounted everything she ate the week of Dec. 15 in the five days following her positive test result, and she felt as if she pinpointed the source: a pork burrito.
“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,” Houlihan wrote.
Houlihan said her levels of nandrolone were consistent with someone who ate that type of pork within 10 hours of a test. She passed a polygraph test, she said, and had her hair sampled “by one of the world’s foremost toxicologists.”
The result of that test led the World Anti-Doping Agency to agree “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,” Houlihan wrote. “I believe my explanation fits the facts much better- because it’s true. I also believe it was dismissed without proper due process.”
Houlihan’s ban comes days before the U.S. Olympic track and field trials are set to begin in Eugene, Oregon, and about a month ahead of the Olympics in Tokyo. Houlihan was expected to compete for a medal.
In a statement posted to the Bowerman Track Club’s website, Houlihan’s coach Jerry Schumacher said the last six months “has eroded all the faith I had” in the Athletics Integrity Unit’s “ability to fairly serve and protect clean athletes.” Schumacher said he learned “that anti-doping authorities are okay with convicting innocent athletes so long as nine out of ten convictions are legitimate. That is wrong.”
Houlihan’s ban holds her out of this summer’s Olympics, but also runs through the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Teammate Karissa Schweizer said on Instagram “a four year ban is a death sentence to [Houlihan’s] career.”