American Swimmer Tests Positive at World Jrs, Forfeits Medal

American swimmer Matthew Willenbring tested positive for a banned substance at the 2017 World Junior Championships last year, FINA revealed over the weekend, and served a 4-month ban that has already expired, beginning on October 19th when his voluntary provisional suspension began. As part of the suspension, he forfeited all results and medals beginning on August 28th, 2017, the last day of the World Junior Championships.

That is the same day where the United States won a gold medal in the men’s 400 medley relay that included Willenbring as the anchor of the finals relay. USA Swimming has confirmed that the entire relay will forfeit their medals. FINA has not responded to a request for whether they will redistribute medals for the event. Russia took silver, Italy took bronze, and Australia finished 4th.

Willenbring also won medals in the mixed 400 free relay (silver) and the individual 100 free (bronze – 49.17) before the voluntary suspension began. The maximum suspension period for a first-time offense for a banned substance is 4 years, meaning that the FINA Doping Panel decided there were mitigating circumstances to reduce his suspension.

Willenbring tested positive for the substance Hydrochlorathiazide, which is banned as a Class S5 Diuretic and masking agent. The substance’s medical uses include reducing high blood pressure and fluid retention, and treating a number of diseases and conditions including kidney stones. The drug is sold under a number of brand names and is available by prescription in the United States.

Willenbring, who is committed to swim for the 4-time defending National Champions the University of Texas next season, sat out from the swim team during his senior year at Austin Westlake High School. He would’ve been ineligible to train with any USA Swimming club or coach during his period of suspension. He did race at the 2018 American Short Course Championships in early March (not sanctioned by USA Swimming as a formal National Championship meet) – his first meet since the World Junior Championships. Willenbring was originally listed as a member of the U.S. National Junior Team, but that roster is no longer publicly posted on USA Swimming’s website.

Willenbring was originally included on the USA Swimming National Junior Team with his time from World Juniors; after FINA’s announcement last week, the roster was updated. While his times from World Juniors were removed from consideration, he is still on the team’s roster as a result of his times from the summer U.S. National Championships.

This is not the first time that FINA has failed to announce a doping sanction until after the suspension was served. World Record holder Sun Yang was suspended for 3 months in May of 2014, but FINA didn’t announce his suspension until November of that year – several months after the suspension ended.

The 2017 FINA World Junior Championships were hosted in Indianapolis, Indiana in the United States. The Americans topped the medals table with 32 total awards – 12 gold, 13 bronze, and 7 silver. They ranked 1st in all 3 of those categories.

Updated 3/26: USA Swimming confirmed that the entire men’s 400 medley relay would lose their medals.

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Wondering if this was actually prescribed or if he was actually taking for performance enhancement.

He’s so young, and I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Reality is though if he was from another country (say Russia, China, etc.), we’d all be jumping to conclusions.

Human Ambition

1) Normally a suspension could last 18 months as for Johaug. 2) Lots of “health store junk” is not recommended for FINA athletes. 3) Anyone knows if NCAA has the same rules as FINA/IOC?


Any known reason why he would take Hydrochlorathiazide? Any health issues? What is the normal reason for shorter suspensions, is it the type of infraction?


Hydrochlorothiazide is a very common blood pressure medication in the US, probably top 3 most common. Not many young people are on these types of medications, but perhaps he has valvular heart disease, a cardiomyopathy, or marfan’s (he is very tall after all).


He likely would have disclosed it if taking it for any of those conditions. Other than Marfan’s, the other heart issues would likely keep him from competing at a high level


If he had Marian’s he wouldn’t be swimming.. that would be dangerous


HCTZ is a diuretic that is normally used to treat hypertension. It is banned because it can be used as a masking agent for other substances.

HB Swim Dad

The “masking agent” definition is quite far reaching and encompasses many “common” medications, unfortunately. Unlike the NFL where obvious “performance enhancing drugs” are tested (so when you test positive, it’s a foregone conclusion as to the users intent), these “masking agents” can come in the form of many legitimate medications that share the potential for “masking” other chemicals.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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