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 thee 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.