Colombian Olympian Omar Pinzon has been exonerated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland of any guilt in a positive test for cocaine in 2012.
Pinzon, who had been training out of the Trojan Swim Club in Southern California, tested positive for cocaine at the 2012 National Games in his native country. The result was a two-year suspension from the FECNA Disciplinary Committee. Cocaine is a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Code.
The 24-year old Pinzon is a three-time Olympian for his native Colombia and earned a silver medal in the 200 backstroke at the 2011 Pan American Games. Pinzon spent most of his elite career training in the United States, and the former Florida Gator was a 12-time NCAA All-American from 2006-2010.
In a resounding and overwhelming decision, the CAS overtly stated that they believed the test was flawed – and their comments were not laced with much in the way of shrouded language or technicalities that sometimes come with overturned decisions.
See the full decision from the CAS, in PDF form, here.
The hearing took place in New York City on February 12th, 2014, with the Colombian swimming federation (FECNA) opting not to participate, either via video conference or in person.
Among the findings by the CAS were:
- Several irregularities in the chain of custody that exists to ensure that samples are not tainted.
- The test used by the lab in Colombia is not the standard test for cocaine, which the lab says is because “a particular instrument was not available for confirmation analysis,” but that is inconsistent with other evidence provided by the respondent.
- FECNA failed to provide the documentation of the testing laboratory’s “method file” for the tests it ran, which means that the athlete was unable to defend against the charges, and the CAS, therefore, wouldn’t accept it as evidence against him. According to the CAS, the laboratory “refused” to provide the documentation.
- The athlete submitted to a polygraph examination voluntarily, where he denied having used cocaine in the last two years and was found to be truthful. While a polygraph test is not in-and-of-itself a foolproof method, coupled with the other evidence, it is a strong point in Pinzon’s favor.
And here’s the smoking gun, quoted directly from the CAS’ findings.
- “The results of the lab are inconsistent with biology. In particular, the test results do not follow typical excretion patterns for cocaine and its metabolites. In a peer-reviewed analysis, the results showed that for all subjects and for all methods of administration of cocaine, the concentration level of the EME metabolite was greater than the concentration of the parent drug, cocaine. In contrast to this study, the Athlete’s test reveals a concentration level of cocaine that is approximately twice the level of EME”.
In other words, when related to a certain control-based study, Pinzon’s test results don’t make sense biologically. The science doesn’t make sense.
The Colombian federation seems to have been absent at several points in the process of the arbitration, further dooming its case. In addition to not participating in the appeal hearing, FECNA submitted a brief that wasn’t fully translated into English as they were instructed to do by the CAS panel, and their brief was ruled to be inadmissible.
FECNA further claimed a lack of resources prevented its full participation in the hearing, but the CAS rejected the notion that FECNA had the resources to hold a full two-day disciplinary hearing but not the resources to appear via video conference.
In the award, the CAS first overturned the two year suspension, meaning he is immediately eligible to compete again. All of his awards, prize money, etc. has been reinstated (including results from those National Games, which are significant in Colombian sport culture).
Financially, Pinzon has been awarded $20,000 toward the cost of his defense, and FECNA has further been instructed to bear the full cost of the CAS arbitration.
As a signatory of the World Anti-Doping Code, FECNA has recognized that the decision of the CAS is legally binding.
In a statement released through his attorney, Howard Jacobs, Pinzon said “I am extremely happy with the CAS decision, because it proves what I already knew, which is that I was completely innocent. The past year has been extremely difficult for me and my family, and I look forward to returning to competition later this month.”
Pinzon will return to competition at the Jax50 meet on April 24th, and then race again at the Charlotte Grand Prix on May 15th.