FINA Full Doping Panel Says Willenbring Doping Test Was Accidental

After news broke on Monday morning that American swimmer Matthew Willenbring had tested positive for a banned substance after the U.S. won gold in the men’s 400 medley relay at last year’s World Junior Championships, his attorney, Howard Jacobs, contacted SwimSwam to share a press release with details of the test and proceedings. Jacobs also shared with SwimSwam the full FINA decision, filling in most of the details of the case.

Key details and answers about Willenbring’s positive test that were addressed in the press release and with the suspension:

  • A hearing was held before the FINA Doping Panel in Lausanne, Switzerland on January 12th, 2018, which Willenbring, his mother, his attorney, and a witness, Jackie Higgins.
  • Higgins, a former work colleague and close friend of his mother, visited the family in August of 2017. Higgins testified that she traveled with a supply of blood pressure medication, that included HCTZ, the substance that Willenbring tested positive for. The claim made is that when she traveled, she carried a supply of that medicine with her in an Aleve bottle, which was left at the Willenbring’s house. Matthew then says that during the week of August 14th through August 20th, Willenbring “several times needed an anti-inflammatory pill to address a bad headache.” While searching for the family’s bottle of Advil, he found a bottle of Aleve instead. Willenbring recalled in his testimony that he used pain medication 2 or 3 times during the week of August 14 to August 20, the week before departing for the World Junior Championships. In the family’s search for the potential source of the HCTZ in late November, 2017, then and only then did they learn of Ms. Higgins’ Aleve bottle being left at the house.
  • FINA found Higgins to be an “honest, intelligent and highly credible witness,” and found similarly of Matthew and his mother as well.
  • FINA provided “no evidence…that would serve to contradict or undermine the explanation by the Athlete regarding how HCTZ likely entered his system.”
  • Matthew Willenbring’s urine, in spite of the presence of the substance HCTZ, was not dilute and the concentration of the banned substance was very low – meaning that in the conclusion of the FINA panel, it was so low “that it would not be effective to either control the athlete’s weight or to serve to mask another prohibited substance.”
  • The FINA Doping Panel also concluded that the Athlete “was at all relevant times trying to gain weight – not lose it,” and that he was successful, gaining 17 pounds between May, 2017 and August, 2017 (Willenbring is very tall, 6’10”, FINA noted, saying that even in January, at 230 pounds, he still looked thin). HCTZ, besides its masking properties, can be used as a weight loss agent, especially in sports with weight classes where rapidly dropping weight can be advantageous to an athlete.
  • Testing indicated that there was no evidence of anabolic agents in Willenbring’s hair, implying that he hadn’t taken any in the last 6 months. The FINA Doping Panel concluded that this would give him no reason to take a masking agent.

The explanation above established in the FINA Doping Panel’s opinion that FINA did not demonstrated “that the Athlete acted with intent,” which makes the first cut of the maximum 4-year suspension for a first-time positive test down to 2 years.

The Panel continued on to discuss that because of his age, the requirements for “no significant fault or negligence to further reduce his suspension from 2 years are not in effect. Further, they believed the story of the mislabeled bottle left by a family friend, concluding that because his supplements did not show contamination in testing, and that no other health products or medicine in the family home contained HCTZ, and that the very low concentration, the likelihood that the concentration would’ve been ineffective in masking any substance. Those factors further reduced the suspension to 4 months.

FINA did note that the athlete was “blase” about taking a pain relief substance that he himself did not purchase and that he seemed to drop an otherwise-diligent attitude toward care of care with regard to pain medication.

Interestingly, the FINA Doping Panel in its original decision chose not to name or identify Willenbring in any public reporting because at the time he was under the age of 18. This is allowed by FINA rules, though there is discretion to publish the information in circumstances where it is deemed fit. Willenbring turned 18 on November 22nd, 2017 – before his hearing, but after his suspension began and after his positive test.

Willenbring’s positive test came in his first-ever doping test during his first major international competition

Willenbring began a voluntary suspension on October 19th, that included leaving all team practice and competitive activities. He then resumed training with his club during the last month of his suspension, as is allowed by FINA rules.

Jacobs is a well-known attorney in the Olympic space dealing, and among his many clients, he represented swimmers Park Tae Hwan, Yulia Efimova, and Jessica Hardy in their fights against doping suspensions. All of them received reduced suspensions from the maximum possible.


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My best friend’s mom will testify that my dog ate my homework. If he were Russian, how would you feel? If he were black, how would you feel? If he were Chinese, how would you feel?

Sir Swimsalot

Oh boy…

A Person

Considering diuretics give no real performance enhancement and the urine was well concentrated making any agent it wouldve been masking evident, I think this case is very different from some of the ones with other high profile athletes. This is a plausible story unlike the infamous tainted meat excuse which isnt even physiologically possible or whatever else some athletes say


Maybe whatever was being masked was out of his system and the diuretic was residual. That would explain the low level and concentrated urine. Most people don’t dope right before a competition- unless they’re dumb. Doping occurs throughout training – it allows you to work harder, recover faster, and then turn around and work harder again and again. This allows you to adapt more – get stronger, faster etc.
sounds like he was trying to gain weight – not easy to do for a really tall lanky kid. Btw testosterone is a great way to bulk up.
Also, who goes to other people’s homes and leaves their prescription meds laying around in basically unmarked bottles?

Human Ambition

Similar to Johaug who got 18 months.


Chinese and Russians guilty. Why would you insert black? You seem to be fixated on race and a likely racist. Have your BFs mom dispute that


Russia yes, but China no. These days the rates of doping in China are actually well below average. It’s actually pretty racist that Chinese people get accused so much these days. The top doping countries according to WADA starting with the worst: 1. Italy (147). 2. France (86), 3. United States (76), 4. Australia (75), 5. Belgium (73) 6. India and Russia (69)., 8. Brazil and Iran (55) and 10. South Africa (50).. The top doping countries according to IAAF is Russia number 1 followed by Belarus, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco and Ukraine. Google it.


Whether you like it or not there is good reason for extra suspicion of Russian/Chinese athletes. Both nations have been led by governments who, at some point, have sanctioned and engineered doping programmes on a level unseen anywhere else in the world.

Also, as a mixed race person, I want to ask you to just remove ‘black people’ from your comment. You have no right to use (yes, youre using us) the barriers and social plight black people face to paint the scepticism towards Chinese/Russian athletes as racism.


Yup and last time I checked, the US (or any other national) didn’t have their whole Olympic team “banned” from the Olympics due to state-sponsored doping.


Russia yes, but China no. These days the rates of doping in China are actually well below average. It’s actually pretty racist that Chinese people get accused so much these days. The top doping countries according to WADA starting with the worst: 1. Italy (147). 2. France (86), 3. United States (76), 4. Australia (75), 5. Belgium (73) 6. India and Russia (69)., 8. Brazil and Iran (55) and 10. South Africa (50).. The top doping countries according to IAAF is Russia number 1 followed by Belarus, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco and Ukraine. Google it.

Concerned Friend

Not at all surprised, Matt is a determined and hard working guy. He has always expressed frustration with difficulty in gaining weight, why would he want to lose it? Thankful the truth is finally out there.

Cisco Swim

Maybe accidental, but nevertheless, he tested positive for a banned substance. Good work Mom.

Concerned Friend

Read the actual court case and educate yourself on the facts. He thought he was taking Aleve.


Still seems like a fishy story. Random family friend comes over and just happens to leave a little Controlled Substance in an Aleve pill case. What kind of person just stores their potent prescription drugs in a pill case that could so easily be confused with pain medication? She doesn’t at least write on it or mark it?


Completely agree. And why would she leave it OUT. Hctz is usually taken once per day – no reason to leave out


At the end it says the mom had all supplements tested, including Aleve from Mexico?? I thought she said she bought large bottles at Costco and kept them in the kitchen, not bathroom.


That is not a fact – they can say whatever they want. Doesn’t make it factual. The only fact is he tested positive for a banned substance that is used to mask other performance enhancing substances
The fact that the mistaken medicine happens to be a banned masking agent is extremely sketchy


Did you read the full report? Regardless of how it was ingested, the FACTS prove that there was nothing to hide. Masking agents don’t mask hair follicle tests. Inadvertently took a banned substance? Yes. Cheater? No.


you do realize the guy doing the hair follicle test was paid by Matt’s attorney? Anything he does is not a fact its evidence presented by one side and it always supports the conclusion they want or they just throw it away and hire someone else. I wonder if Jessica Hardy had a hair test done 10 years ago.


The report does state that there was a small increase in the testosterone level ( in the hair). This was stated to be within physiologic levels but who knows the real significance especially with people now micro dosing testosterone to avoid detection.
Also the medicine that the mom’s friend put in the aleve bottle was a combination medicine ( HCTZ + a high blood pressure medicine). Did they find any evidence of this other ingredient( medicine ) in the hair? If they did, this would give some credence to their story which I find kind of hard to believe


Ha ha ha! Look at a prescription bottle and an Aleve bottle. If he thought it was Aleve then maybe UT isn’t the best place for him. The pills are not close to resembling each other. And trying to gain weight can be done with steroids and masked with a diuretic.

Ol' Longhorn

Kinda like Lochte’s mom blabbing to the journalist about the Rio “hold up.”

Swim Fan

Actually no, nothing at all like that.

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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