2023 NCAA Champion Kensey McMahon Suspended Four Years For Positive Doping Test

Former NCAA champion and World Championship medalist Kensey McMahon has received a four-year suspension from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) after testing positive for a banned substance in 2023.

McMahon, 24, tested positive for vadadustat during an in-competition test at the 2023 U.S. National Championships last July. She and USADA mutually agreed to delay the arbitration hearing while she remained provisionally suspended to give her an opportunity to investigate the source of the positive test.

The hearing was held on May 2, 2024, where an arbitrator determined that McMahon would receive the four-year sanction.

Vadadustat is described by USADA as a “non-specified substance in the category of Peptide Hormones, Growth Factors, Related Substances and Mimetics” and is prohibited under the USADA, U.S. Olympic Committee and World Aquatics doping control rules.

Vadadustat is sold under the brand name Vafseo and used as a medication used for the treatment of symptomatic anemia associated with chronic kidney disease.

Vadadustat wasn’t approved for medical use in the U.S. at the time of McMahon’s positive test. It was approved in the U.S. in March 2024 after first being granted approval by the European Union in April 2023.

McMahon posted on Instagram acknowledging the suspension, but says that extensive testing revealed no obvious source of contamination.


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A post shared by Kensey McMahon ◡̈ (@kenseymac)

McMahon’s hearing was on May 2 and she says she received the result this week. While the arbitrator did not conclude that she intended to cheat, they did say that she could not meet her burden of proof under anti-doping rules to receive a reduced suspension.

McMahon was tested twice in April 2023, one out of competition and one competition, and both were negative. She also tested negative four days after the positive on July 5, 2023.

In September 2023, two months after the positive test, McMahon told SwimSwam she was putting swimming “on pause” but declined to elaborate on the reasoning.

“My post-grad plan was to continue in the sport but sometimes plans don’t work out as you envision,” she said at the time. “Swimming is on pause and I’m pursuing other opportunities.”

McMahon’s positive test came in the midst of the most successful run of her career.

At U.S. Nationals when she tested positive, she placed 3rd in the women’s 1500 free (16:07.78) and 6th in the 800 free (8:25.97), both personal best times, and was also 8th in the 400 free.

All of McMahon’s results on and after July 1, 2023, have been disqualified, including the 1500 free at Nationals, which was on that exact date. Her swims in the 400 and 800 free both came earlier in the meet (June 27-July 1).

Her time in the 1500 free would have made her the 3rd-ranked American swimmer in the Olympic Trials qualifying period behind Katie Ledecky (15:26.27) and Katie Grimes (15:56.27).

McMahon wrapped up her college eligibility at Alabama in March 2023 with the best year of her career, winning NCAA titles in the women’s 500 free (4:36.62) and 1650 free (15:43.84) while also claiming the SEC title in the mile for the second time.

Even if McMahon had tested positive prior to the end of the NCAA season, her college results wouldn’t have been disqualified as the NCAA isn’t a World Anti-Doping Agency signatory.

She also had a breakthrough in meters in the midst of her last NCAA season, winning bronze at the 2022 Short Course World Championships in the women’s 1500 freestyle while representing the United States.

The Jacksonville, Florida native was named to the National Team in open water in 2023, and has represented the U.S. internationally in open water events multiple times, including placing 10th at the 2022 World Championships in the women’s 25km.

Over the course of her collegiate career, McMahon was a nine-time All-American, including finishing inside the top eight of the 1650 free in all four of her NCAA appearances. At the conference level, she won the SEC title in the 1650 free in 2020 to go along with her 2023 title, and she never missed the podium over five championship appearances, also placing 3rd in 2019 and 2nd in both 2021 and 2022.

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David S
2 days ago

The hatred for this young lady in the comments is Chad/MA level.
You guys have issues

College Swammer
6 days ago

So we are rushing to defend her but bash the Chinese? Rules for thee but not for me.

Reply to  College Swammer
6 days ago

I don’t know why commenters keep pretending like nobody 1) defended the Chinese or 2) is bashing the Chinese.

The elites are taking a very very different tone here, but the commentariat collectively is a mixed bag in both cases.

6 days ago

American state and god sponsored doping operation no doubt.

Reply to  Sandorelli
4 days ago

Jesus wants you to take tren

6 days ago

I read the arbitrator’s report. It was pretty detailed and basically said that Kensey made several speculative arguments about how she could have tested positive for a drug that wasn’t even available in the US at the time and has no history of cross-contamination. The report led me to three conclusions: (1) she doped and got caught; (2) she was sabotaged somehow (albeit no proof); or (3) she is the victim of some crazy unfortunate cross-contamination (again possible but no proof yet). The latter two possibilities make me feel sorry for her and points out the harshness of the absolute liability rule and high standard for proving an unintentional positive. If this was intentional doping or even perhaps someone telling… Read more »

Aragon Son of Arathorne
6 days ago

I have nothing against any religion but I am tired of people citing God’s plan as a way out of trouble they have gotten into.

6 days ago

One of three choices

1. Unknowingly gambled with her life for results because someone told her “this will make you faster” (EPO drugs are dangerous for healthy individuals without anemia)

2. Knew the risk, was educated on it, took steps as part of a program. There are easier drugs (Epogen) to get your hands on. Seems intentional.

3. See #1 or #2.

Last edited 6 days ago by Bruh
thickening agent
Reply to  Bruh
6 days ago

Yeah see I think this is the unfortunate reality for those who support her.

Not sure why we allow ourselves to give the benefit of the doubt. Distance athlete taking a distance enhancing PED. It’s not like she tested positive for clenbuterol that happened to be in a protein shake. I really hope swimming isn’t about to go through a harsh period of discovery like cycling did when the truth all finally came out. Kindof feels that way lately.

Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

Look, if any of you want to make any comments, do me a favor and read the entire case, learn about the drug in question, and then get to know Kensey for 10 years. I implore you to stop throwing out opinions with no science or evidence to back them up. Get off swimswam and go do something more productive than bashing on a 24 year old girl who I can assure you has worked harder in her life than anyone who has commented here, including myself. I admire Kensey’s bravery for making this news public and I’m ashamed of the grown adults who feel the need to judge her

be fr
Reply to  Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

she is also a grown adult… not a “24 year old girl”, a 24 year old woman.

Last edited 6 days ago by be fr
Reply to  Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

Walk us through the science, please. She alleges a possible incident on may 20th and fails in early July. Given the half life of the drug, it’s literally impossible. Double 0.05ng/ml 100+ times and tell me what number you end up with.

Aragon Son of Arathorne
Reply to  Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

Oh give me a break. Worked harder than anyone here? You do know that there are multiple Olympic medalists here, right? You have no basis for any of your claims, including what your friend has or hasn’t done. I’d do a lot for my best friends, but I sure as hell don’t expect them to me every embarrassing detail of their lives. Your response is a cop out.

Former swimmer
Reply to  Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

You know this will die down but you commenting keeps pushing it up. She failed a drug test. What do you want people to do not comment and whistle and walk away? This comes on the heels of the Chinese feeling.

Reply to  Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

I’m not dunking on her but this comment is ridiculous. You think that no one can make judgments on cheating unless they’ve known someone for 10 years?

Also she didn’t “bravely make it public”. The report was published so everyone would know even if she posted nothing.

This Guy
Reply to  Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

When she finally fesses up to it I will be expecting your apology

Reply to  Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

The science and evidence have spoken… in the form of a positive test.

Reply to  Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

Kensey is also an adult. She’s 24!

Reply to  Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

I know you patted yourself on the back and texted your “friend “ to see your comment after posting this

Sun Yang’s friend
Reply to  Kensey’s friend
6 days ago

Free my boy too while we’re at it. He got pinched for 8 years and didn’t even test positive!!

7 days ago

From the 41 page summary, specifically regarding the polygraph (the whole thing is very compelling):

Respondent also relies on her polygraph test as evidence that she did not intentionally take vadadustat. However, the Arbitrator notes that the reliability of polygraph evidence is uncertain. A polygraph exam doesn’t detect lies; it detects signs of emotion. The person conducting the test records physiological changes, such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration levels, and skin conductivity, in reaction to a question. Those physiological factors are then interpreted to determine whether there is deception. Doubts and uncertainties plague even the best polygraph exams. Thus, arbitral panels have found, and the Arbitrator agrees, polygraph tests to be of limited value. Campbell-Brown v. JAAA &… Read more »

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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