U.S. Swimmer Sam Tierney Given Warning After WADA Rule Violation

American breaststroker Sam Tierney has been issued a public warning for a rule violation stemming from an anti-doping test in early June.

The in-competition test took place on June 3, 2016, when Tierney was competing at the USA Swimming Arena Pro Swim Series in Indianapolis. The interesting twist in this case is that Tierney’s punishment does not come as a result of a failed test; Tierney’s sample from the meet actually tested negative for banned substances.

But during the doping control process, Tierney declared on doping control records that he had used his inhaler on May 31. The inhaler included a “beta-2 agonist” called Vilanterol Trifenatate, which is listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s Prohibited List.

Tierney did not have an approved therapeutic use exemption (TUE) which would allow him to legally use the inhaler containing that substance.

According to the case record from USADA (The United States Anti-Doping Agency), Tierney applied for a TUE about a week later on June 9, but was denied. A week after that, on June 16, USADA contacted Tierney to tell him he was charged with an anti-doping rule violation.

Tierney would have faced a 3-month period of ineligibility, but requested a hearing with an arbiter. According to the USADA documents, Tierney said that in early May, he had a cough, low energy and was swimming poorly, so he went to see a doctor. The doctor diagnosed him with acute bronchitis and gave him antibiotics. On a second trip to the doctor a few weeks later, Tierney was told he still had bronchitis and was prescribed the inhaler.

Tierney says he explained to the doctor during both visits that he was a competitive swimmer who had to be careful of banned substances. He says the doctor told him bronchitis medication would not be an issue. Tierney also admitted that he did not look up the inhaler’s ingredients because “nothing the doctor said caused him any concerns,” and he also said he understands it was his responsibility as an athlete to know what substances he was putting into his body.

The arbiter ruled that Tierney taking the beta-2 agonist was indeed an anti-doping rule violation. But based on the fact that Tierney’s admitted use of the inhaler didn’t take place during competition and that he didn’t actually test positive for any banned substance, the arbiter reduced the 3-month suspension to a reprimand, allowing Tierney to compete at U.S. Olympic Trials.

Tierney advanced to semfinals in both breaststrokes at Olympic Trials, taking 15th in the 100 and 12th in the 200.

Tierney is the first American swimmer to be listed on USADA’s sanction list since 2010. You can find the full USADA sanction list here.

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How dare he contract acute bronchitis just weeks before Olympic Trials. The horror…


I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with Sam on numerous occasions and he could not be a more stand up guy. He has made a huge impact for the University of Missouri and is a huge reason why they have had such recent success. It’s unfortunate that in today’s world something as innocent as having bronchitis and using an inhaler for relief can be seen as an attempt at cheating. Clearly the inhaler did not provide any such benefits, seeing as he was genuinely sick. I wish Sam the best and it’s an honor to say that he has “Swam Near Me.”


I am bothered by this episode. It reminds me entering my pool locker room after a local age group meet and seeing half a dozen inhalers left on the floor.

Live suspension

If he was Russian , you all would be screaming
Life suspension , I can not believe he ate otmeal
For breakfast to get ahead.


If he was Russian he would be doing way more than an inhaler…


You have a point. This may not be the best case to make a point, but if we in America want exemplary punishment for dopers, we have to accept the same harshness for our own.


Agreed, but he didn’t fail any doping test. He was warned on the basis of his own self-reporting. On the other hand, like everyone else, he’s responsible for the substances that enter his body. The old “my doctor said it would be OK” excuse is somewhat troubling. Tough call, but he probably got off a little too easy.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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