In light of the recent doping scandal that has rocked the foundation of Russian sports, the organizations of USA Swimming and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) are joining forces to conquer doping in the sport of swimming.
The two institutions are partnering up in pressing the world’s swimming governing body, FINA, on the current state of doping via an in-person meeting. USADA CEO Travis Tygart and USA Swimming President Jim Wood will be visiting FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu in Lausanne, Switzerland next month in the quest for more information on past doping decisions and future combative processes.
Said USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus to the press, “This is an effort to see if we can understand what’s going on and maybe why certain decisions were made the way they were.” Specifically, the cases involving Australia’s Kylie Palmer, Russia’s Yuliya Efimova and China’s Sun Yang are on the list of topics to be reviewed at the meeting.
All three athletes’ doping cases were handled rather peculiarly, with questions raised by several in the swimming community in each circumstance. Olympic gold medalist Sun Yang served a 3-month ban resulting from a positive test in May 2014, but the case was kept under wraps for 6 months, with FINA not announcing the punishment until late November that year.
For Efimova, the Russian breaststroker tested positive for a banned steroid and was handed a 16-month suspension. FINA accepted Efimova’s claim that it was a language barrier issue, which resulted in her misreading the involved supplement’s packaging. As such, the swimmer avoided a 2-year ban, which would have excluded her from the 2015 World Championships, a competition at which she ended up earning 100m breaststroke gold.
In a somewhat bizarre anti-doping case we reported on as it unfolded, Palmer had passed two separate drug tests at the 2013 World Championships, but tested positive for low levels of a diuretic/masking agent in a third. At the time, FINA originally planned not to pursue an anti-doping case against Palmer, but the World Anti-Doping Agency disagreed. Miscommunication between the two organizations meant Palmer was not informed of her failed test until almost two years later, severely hampering her ability to defend herself or show how the banned substance entered her system.
The result? Palmer voluntarily stepped down from her country’s World Championships roster, and most welcomed FINA’s punishment of a warning and a stripping of all results from the single day she failed the test. That wiped out a 6th-place finish in the 200 free, but did not take away any medals.
Regarding these cases in particular, Wielgus explained that “It’s fair to say that those things got our attention and we wondered what went wrong in some of the decision-making. Those are things we’ll talk about with Cornel but more important than that is pushing forward. Understanding some of the past mistakes is important but making sure the system is in place so those things don’t happen again is even more important.”
Part of pushing forward is USA Swimming’s reported inquiry into establishing an independent body, which would be in control of anti-doping procedures. This is aligned with the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) push for the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) to take over doping control, including testing. The hope is that by WADA taking over testing responsibilities, there would be a reduction in conflict of interests, as the authority is now in the hands of individual federations and organizing committees who may have vested interests in the actual test outcomes.
Of course the ultimate goal of the intended open line of communication among USA Swimming, the USADA and FINA is to ensure a clean Olympic Games come 2016, in a double meaning of the word ‘clean’.
Explained Wielgus, “There are two great concerns we have about the Rio Games. One is that there is clean competition. And No. 2 is that the water is clean for open water swimmers.” The water cleanliness issue erupted once again yesterday when the AP released results of its own commissioned tests indicating a spike in both bacterial contamination of its open water venues not only near the short, but well off-shore as well.
However, Wielgus said that the issue of water health and athlete safety regarding that aspect will not be discussed in the meeting with Marculescu.