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It’s a clean athlete’s worst nightmare: a lab technician mixes up urine samples and returns a false positive.
Officials say that could — or at least should — never happen. But it did last August when a WADA-approved lab in Madrid botched samples and incorrectly declared a rider positive.
The Spanish sports daily AS reported that World Anti-Doping Agency authorities informed the Madrid lab Friday that it would temporarily suspend its accreditation to conduct all anti-doping controls for three months following the serious breach of protocol.
The lab’s director of control offered to resign, and national authorities accepted.
According to AS, the mistake happened last August, likely during the 2012 Vuelta a España, when a technician accidentally mixed clean urine with the sample of another athlete that had high levels of a banned doping product.
When the sample was found positive, the lab notified the Spanish cycling federation as well as the athlete, who quickly requested a second analysis.
When the “B” sample turned up negative, the lab investigated and discovered the error. Lab authorities informed WADA, which eventually decided to temporarily prevent the lab from conducting more anti-doping controls.
While a supposedly clean rider was cleared, the error means that another athlete, who likely was taking banned substances, slipped through the testing protocol (the report does not indicate if it was a cyclist or someone from another sport).
There was no immediate information available about the identity of the athlete in the other half of the mixed sample.
According to reports, there were no doping positives during the 2012 Vuelta or in other Spanish races last summer.
The Madrid lab opened in 1969 and had never had such a case during its history. The lab controls more than 8,000 samples per year. According to WADA protocol, all labs are reviewed annually, and up to 20 fake samples are introduced to ensure standards and protocol.
According to AS, the lab’s ban may be reduced if its staff undergoes additional training courses and an independent auditor reviews the facilities.
It’s not the first time labs have been temporarily shut down following breaches of protocol or mistakes. In more extreme cases, labs have permanently lost accreditation to conduct anti-doping controls.
In January last year, a lab in Rio de Janeiro was barred for six months from conducting tests using the conducting isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS).
The news comes on the same day the Spanish high court awarded Roberto Heras his title from the 2005 Vuelta a España, citing irregularities in his anti-doping control.