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An Olympic hurdle too high for Bobby Lea

The door to the Olympic Games that appeared to crack open for track racer Bobby Lea when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decreased his ban for noroxycodone, a metabolite of oxycodone, from 16 months to six months, may have been painted on the wall. Buried inside USA Cycling’s selection rules is a regulation that makes his Olympic bid all but impossible.

The new ban duration will allow Lea, a staple of the U.S. track program for a decade, to begin racing next month, ostensibly allowing him to make the Olympic squad and compete in Rio de Janeiro in August. However, Regulation of a document titled “Athlete Selection Procedures” states: “All athletes must be in good standing with USAC, USOC, UCI, and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) at the time of nomination.” The rule has been on the books since January 2015.

Lea was banned when the long list was announced. As a result, he can’t be named to USA Cycling’s long list.

A USA Cycling spokesperson confirmed that Lea runs afoul of the rule as it is currently written. 

Lea classified the rule as a setback, and one that he believes he and his legal team can overcome.

“I kept my foot on the gas all winter with the hope that the CAS ruling would re-open the door for Olympic eligibility,” he told VeloNews. “Now that the door is open again we just have the Long Team hurdle to overcome. But it’s just that. It’s a hurdle. And I’ve come too far to turn around in the face of a hurdle. As Yogi Berra once said ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’”

“We are aware that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has reduced Bobby Lea’s doping sanction from 16 months to 6 months,” USA Cycling CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall said in a statement. “As with the original sanction put forth by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, we stand by any verdict put forth by USADA or CAS as the anti-doping authorities in sport. We believe this case demonstrates the robustness of both USADA testing program and the appeals processes designed to protect athletes.”

If USA Cycling were to waive or change its rules at this point, it would open itself to litigation from other athletes.

There is a path forward, once again through the Swiss courts. Lea could appeal to CAS and attempt to overturn USA Cycling’s nomination regulations. But even if he were successful, and was able place himself on the Olympic list, his chances of making it to Rio would be slim, according to a source within USA Cycling, because he hasn’t raced since nationals in August, and will miss the world championships this week (and thus the end of the final qualification window). If CAS overturned USA Cycling’s selection procedure, it’s not clear whether Lea would make the team based solely on recent results.

When USA Cycling released its long list in February, it stated, “If Lea’s appeal [to CAS] is successful and he is reinstated, USA Cycling will honor his automatic nomination and name him to the team.” Lea’s appeal was only partially successful, reducing his ban from 16 months to six months, but he was not fully acquitted. As a result, the fact remains that he was not in good standing with USADA when the Olympic long list was selected.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that all of Lea’s results since his positive test were vacated. Only his results on August 8th, the day he tested positive, and following the date he accepted his sanction, September 10th, were vacated.

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