South African swimmer Roland Schoeman, an Olympic gold medalist, has made his first public statement since FINA announced that he has been sanctioned for testing positive for a banned substance.
Schoeman received a one year ban, that began in May, after testing positive for the banned substance GW501516. The World Anti-Doping Agency categorizes GW501516 as a ‘hormone and metabolic modulator’, alerting athletes in 2013 that the substance failed medical trials and was a toxic threat to health if used as a performance enhancer. (Washington Post)
In the statement, Schoeman said that he believes that the positive test came as a result of a tainted supplement, though he says that by the time he was notified of his positive test, all of that month’s supply of supplements were gone and unable to be tested.
Even without proof of a tainted supplement, FINA still reduced Schoeman’s punishment from the maximum 4 years for a first time offense. By rule, the 4 years are reduced to 2 years if the hearing body believes that it was not intentional, and generally to reduce further than that requires an athlete to prove a source of accidental ingestion. As an example, American swimmer Madisyn Cox initially had a 2-year doping suspension given out by FINA. It was only after she identified the source of contamination, a specific supplement she was taking that was able to be tested for contamination, that she had that suspension reduced to 6 months. FINA, however, has reduced Schoeman’s suspension from 2 years to 1 year, even without identifying a source of contamination. FINA has not responded to requests for the full Doping Panel decision to illuminate why they chose to give Schoeman only a 1 year penalty.
Schoeman has thus far declined to answer questions from SwimSwam, and punctuated his statement on Friday that this would be his final word on the matter.
Schoeman did offer in his defense that he believes 2 prior tests and 2 later tests that came back clean as evidence of contamination because the detection time for GW50516, also known as Cardarine, is 40 days. “So, had I been intentionally taking it, all five tests would have proved positive.”
Schoeman also admits that this ordeal has changed his perspective on other athletes’ claims of accidental ingestion.
“I used to think the world of illicit supplementing was straightforward. That you either took supplements or you didn’t. And frankly, I disbelieved other athletes when they claimed contamination. I now know from painful experience that it isn’t quite that simple.”
Schoeman says that he is now recording batch numbers and retaining a portion of each supply of supplements so that if he has future positive doping tests that he can check for contamination.
The 39-year old Schoeman was a member of the South African team at the 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 Olympic Games. He won an Olympic gold in 2004 as a member of South Africa’s 400 free relay, and that year he also took silver in the 100 free and bronze in the 50 free individually. He also had 3 long course World Championships, all in individual events, and is a former World Record holder in 5 events.
South Africa has not yet announced their selection criteria for swimming at the 2020 Olympic Games; however, Schoeman’s suspension expires on May 17th: after the South African National Championships (traditionally their Olympic Trials), but well before the Olympic Games.
Roland Schoeman‘s Full Statement is Below
“Dear followers and supporters, you will by now know that the International Swimming Federation (FINA) applied a one-year suspension to me. This resulted from testing an out-of-competition urine control sample on 18th May 2019, which tested positive for two metabolites of GW50516 (Cardarine) which is a hormone and metabolic regulator. The suspension ends on May 17th this year.
I want to share the full story with you, so there’s clarity and because I’m very mindful of my responsibility as a role-model for younger swimmers.
As athletes, our bodies are our livelihood. And as is the norm, we all use a range of nutritional supplements to keep the body in the finest possible condition.
In May last year I was taking a variety of supplements, all carefully selected, to avoid any possibility of inadvertently dosing on something not allowed. I was not at all concerned about providing a urine sample as I had been tested dozens of times previously, both in and out of competition, and all such tests had been negative for banned subtances. I had tested negative for any such contamination in two tests before May 2019 and for two tests immediately after the one found to contain a trace of the substance. Regretfully, by the time FINA notified me of the positive test, there was none of that month’s supplement supply left.
I would never knowingly take a banned substance and much less a substance known to carry cancer, heart attack and stroke risks. At my own expense, I paid for testing of new batches of the supplements I’d been taking, to track down the source of the problem. This proved to be unsuccessful.
It’s important to note that FINA would normally apply an automatic two- or four-year ban for doping based on the evidence. I sat in Lausanne with FINA officials for over seven hours, answering any and all questions. It’s testament to FINA’s understanding that this was possibly inadvertent cross-contamination, that I received only a one-year ban.
I have never, in my decades of competition, taken performance enhancing substances and never would. The minimal concentration of Cardarine in my urine – just 1.3 nanograms – is confirmed by lab technicians and experts to indicate that this could have been caused by product contamination. The detection time for just one dose of Cardarine, is up to forty days. So, had I been intentionally taking it, all five tests would have proved positive.
I have always aimed at retiring from competitive swimming one day, with an unblemished record. This incident has been personally devastating and very stressful because I can say with hand on heart, I have never knowingly taken any banned substance. Those who know me, know my long-term commitment to clean sport.
To prevent any possible repeat of the situation I am now recording batch numbers and keeping a quantity of pills and powders aside, from whatever batch I take, so they can be independently tested should any sample abnormalities ever again be detected.
I used to think the world of illicit supplementing was straightforward. That you either took supplements or you didn’t. And frankly, I disbelieved other athletes when they claimed contamination. I now know from painful experience that it isn’t quite that simple.
At the FINA hearing I pledged my support irrespective of what their sanction was. I asked FINA if I can assist in educating upcoming athletes on the real risks of taking supplements, as well as the safety measures we now know need to be in place. I’m also involved in the development of a supplement information app that will assist tested athletes in the future.
It remains my ambition to compete in the Olympics this year, if possible. My commitment to maintaining the highest standards of ethics and fairness in all sport, remains undimmed.
I don’t want to engage in endless discussion about this matter because my focus needs to be on training and doing what I do best. This statement, with your kind understanding, will therefore please serve as my final word on the matter.
Thank you for your understanding and continued support. Yours very sincerely, Roland.”