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USADA CEO: 90-year-old’s world record triggered doping test

USADA CEO says no-fault cases like Carl Grove's show how the anti-doping system needs to be overhauled and fixed.

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Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), said that the only reason 90-year-old cyclist Carl Grove was given an anti-doping test was because he set a new age-group world record, and not because he was targeted by anti-doping authorities.

“Under the sport’s rules, and track and field has a similar rule, in order for a world record to be ratified, the individual who broke the record has to be tested,” Tygart told VeloNews in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“If you look at [Grove’s] testing history on our website, you can see we’ve tested him, it looks like, six times now total dating back to 2012. All of these have been because he has set a world record.”

Grove recorded a positive anti-doping test at the masters track national championships last July for epitrenbolone, a metabolite of the prohibited substance trenbolone. He was stripped of his national pursuit title and the age-group world record he set during his ride, but USADA did not ban him from competition; the organization determined that the epitrenbolone positive was non-intentional, and “more likely than not caused by contaminated meat.” USADA handed Grove the lowest sanction that it is allowed to give for an anti-doping violation, Tygart said.

Tygart said that USADA hopes to change the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) existing rules that govern cases like Grove’s, where an athlete is determined to have ingested contaminated food or medication. Currently, these cases still trigger a violation, even when an investigation determines that the athlete in question was not at fault.

“Cases like this, frankly, make us bang our head against the wall,” Tygart said. “It’s evidence of a system that needs to be fixed and overhauled. It’s exactly why we’ve been pushing so hard for change to the WADA rules on these types of cases.”

Tygart said USADA is pushing to change the rules surrounding a small list of substances, where a positive test at an extremely low amount would trigger an investigation, rather than an automatic violation, due to the possibility of an accidental, no-fault ingestion.

“We would prefer that this type of case and other type of [contamination] cases — meat, water, and prescription medications — not to be violations at all,” Tygart said.

Competitive cyclists have pointed to tainted meat as a defense in the past with varying levels of success. Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador unsuccessfully fought a 2010 positive test for clenbuterol by arguing he had ingested tainted food. Tygart said that the extremely small quantities of epitrenbolone in Grove’s system helped USADA conclude that this was indeed an accidental ingestion.

“We’re testing supplements, we’re interviewing people in restaurants that serve dishes, we’re looking at the level of the substance in the system from a scientific standpoint seeing if it’s consistent with the other evidence that we’re seeing, we’re analyzing prior test results,” Tygart said.

“The fact that it was picogram levels, not nanogram levels but picogram levels, that, coupled with the negative test the day before, is a very material point.”

Tygart said he still supports the existing rules requiring world-record setters to receive an automatic test.

“It’s a good policy to protect clean athletes and preserve sport records,” he said. “It helps to preserve the integrity of the record books, which in a lot of sports are essential to the history of the sport.”

Considering the circumstances of Grove’s case — specifically, his age — media interest even outside of the cycling world has been high. Tygart said that multiple outlets have contacted USADA to inquire about Grove’s warning.

“It sparked a discussion, which is good. We just want it to be on accurate facts. World records get ratified based on testing,” Tygart said.

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