WADA and USADA Spar Over Handling Of Chinese Swimmers’ Positive TMZ Tests In Press Releases

The NY Times and ARD, Germany’s public broadcaster, both published reports on April 20th that detailed the investigations by the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency (CHINADA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) into the 23 Chinese swimmers that tested positive for trimetazidine (TMZ) during the Chinese Long Course Invitational from December 31st, 2020 – January 3rd, 2021. This includes that the original investigation by CHINADA found that the swimmers unknowingly ingested TMZ, which WADA said it was “not in a position to disprove.”

Not only did these reports shed new light on the investigative process, they also revealed intense dissention from other anti-doping agencies around the world, including the International Testing Agency (ITA) and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

In the NY Times report, Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA, took a strong stance on WADA’s handling of the case. Tygart said “this appears to be a devastating stab in the back of clean athletes and a deep betrayal of all athletes who compete fairly and follow the rules.”

He continued, “all of those dirty hands in burying these positives and surpassing the voices of courageous whistle-blowers must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the rules and law.”

Tygart also released a statement through USADA. Some of his quotes from the NY Times article also appear in the statement, released on April 20th.

“It’s crushing to see that 23 Chinese swimmers had positive tests for a potent performance-enhancing drug on the eve of the 2021 Olympic Games, as reported by the New York Times and ARD. It’s even more devastating to learn the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency secretly, until now, swept these positives under the carpet by failing to fairly and evenly follow the global rules that apply to everyone else in the world.

Our hearts ache for the athletes from the countries who were impacted by this potential cover-up and who may have lost podium moments, financial opportunities, and memories with family that can never be replaced. They have been deeply and painfully betrayed by the system. All of those with dirty hands in burying positive tests and suppressing the voices of courageous whistleblowers must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the rules and law.”

WADA hit back in a statement later the same day, which is in full below.

Mr. Tygart’s allegations are politically motivated and delivered with the intention of undermining WADA’s work to protect clean sport around the world. WADA notes that the damaging comments have been delivered without any supporting evidence whatsoever.

The truth of this matter is that according to all available scientific evidence and intelligence, thoroughly gathered, assessed and tested by leading anti-doping experts, WADA had no basis to challenge the explanation of environmental contamination. At all times, WADA acted in good faith, according to due process and following advice from external counsel when it decided not to appeal this case. In the absence of any other evidence WADA, still today, stands by the results of its rigorous scientific investigation as well as the approach of its Intelligence and Investigations Department. WADA’s statement of 20 April outlines the Agency’s position on this file in more detail.

It is implicit in his statement that Mr. Tygart does not accept the finding of environmental contamination in this case although he cannot say why. Yet, it is true that in the United States, WADA has also accepted USADA’s similar conclusions of contamination involving a number of U.S. athletes. Mr. Tygart should realize that it is not only American athletes who can fall victim to situations of no-fault contamination.

USADA contacted WADA in early 2023 based on a tip it had received about an alleged cover-up involving these cases but unfortunately was unable to provide any evidence whatsoever.

It should be noted that following Mr. Tygart’s false allegations, WADA has no choice but to refer this matter to its legal counsel for further action

In their first statement of the day, in which WADA shed more light on the agency’s own investigations into the 23 positive tests, WADA stated that the USADA contacted the agency by email in April 2023, “[advising] WADA of a tip from an unspecified source that the positive TMZ cases had been hidden.”

WADA said the information was “clearly erroneous” though they offered to reinvestigate if USADA provided evidence or interview the source. Per WADA’s statement, USADA did not take them up on either offer.

WADA released their statement on X (formerly known as Twitter) at 12:57pm EDT. Less than two hours later, the USADA responded at 2:30pm EDT with a statement of their own.

“It is disappointing to see WADA stoop to threats and scare tactics when confronted with a blatant violation of the rules governing anti-doping. When you blow away their rhetoric, the facts remain as have been reported: WADA failed to provisionally suspend the athletes, disqualify results, and publicly disclose the positives. These are egregious failures, even if you buy their story that this was contamination and a potent drug ‘magically appeared’ in a kitchen and led to 23 positive tests of elite Chinese swimmers.

Yes, there are contamination cases, and we’ve been advocating for years to change the WADA rules for those substances that can potentially cause contamination. TMZ is not in that category. And, most importantly, in all contamination cases that we have proven, we provisionally suspended the athlete, disqualified the results, found a violation, and issued an announcement as required by the rules. Transparency is the key to shining the light in the darkness, and here, by not following the rules, WADA and CHINADA have left clean athletes in the dark.”

In the last few years, there are multiple instances of anti-doping agencies provisionally suspending athletes that test positive for TMZ. Both the NY Times and ARD reports cite the Kamila Valieva case from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics as an example for the way that WADA has handled these cases in the past. Valieva, a Russian figure skater, tested positive for TMZ and blamed contaminated food. Russian anti-doping authorities cleared her for competition, which WADA appealed. Valieva was ultimately given a four-year ban.

In the pool, American Madisyn Cox tested positive for TMZ and was originally given a two-year ban. After Cox proved that she accidentally ingested the substance by tracing the positive test back to a batch of contaminated vitamins, her ban was reduced to six months.

Tygart himself has offered a different opinion on the public disclosure of positive tests in the past. In 2019, 90-year-old American cyclist Carl Grove was stripped of his world record and given a public warning after testing positive for epitrenbolone, which is a metabolite of the banned substance trenbolone. Tygart told the NY Times then “he believed that ‘no fault’ cases like when tainted food, water, or medicine is ingested accidentally, should not be a violation or be publicly announced.’”

The USADA statement makes a distinction for TMZ, saying that while it has “been advocating for years to change the WADA rules for those substances that can potentially cause contamination. TMZ is not in that category.”

TMZ is used as heart medication outside the United States but is not approved for sale in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration. It has been on WADA’s banned substance list since 2014.

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1 month ago

Why would a government systematically dope and at the same time, report positive test results?

Seems to me that it was contamination, though unfortunately the athletes should still be punished one way or the other.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Stingy
1 month ago

I think this is far likelier explanation – a couple of the athletes were going to legitimately test positive, so they just messed with the rest of ’em to make it seem that the Kitchen Excuse is somehow plausible.

1 month ago

Just catching up on this. Are the source(s)/whistleblower(s) for these allegations coming from within WADA?

Reply to  Rookie
1 month ago

Nope, NSA and CIA leaks

Steve Nolan
1 month ago

I think I’ve got a comment in here that never got approved, you monsters, but just noticed that the 90yo cyclist got popped for taking TREN?!?!

That’s p metal.

1 month ago

I don’t believe so many athletes knowingly ingested TMZ also knowing they were being tested..one or two might be stupid enough..but 23????..that being said, a kitchen mistake is equally ridiculous..I would think the more probable explanation is supplements given to these athletes..without their knowledge of contamination..
Either way, they should have been given the same ban as Jessica Hardy..6 months.
To have this story break now, on the Eve of Paris is fueling a lot of anger..our athletes don’t need that now..

Swim Canada
Reply to  Susan
1 month ago

Exactly this!!

1 month ago

According to the AP, the USADA could take WADA to federal court based on a law enacted in 2020.


4th to last paragraph.

Sapiens Ursus
1 month ago

I hope WADA continues with the extreme scare tactics. Take this to civil court, let’s see how WADAs story holds up there… Pretty obviously it’s an empty threat that only further makes there stance look extremely weak and suspect.

Sigh. It really isn’t funny though this seems to be about as blatant a cover up as there could be and it’s pretty unprecedented.

I’m particularly saddened that both Zhang and Qin tested positive. Both had similar stories of being age grouper wunderkinds who has stalled out and then reached there potential with a new coach. Now that turn around for them is suspect. Perhaps they just consumed containmented supplements, this is the damage and danger of a total… Read more »

Sweet Sweet Peter Rosen
1 month ago

“Win if you may, lose if you must, but always cheat!” -Jesse The Body Ventura

I miss the ISL (Go dawgs)
1 month ago

Interesting development – Paige Madden, Katie McLaughlin, Allison Schmitt, Missy Franklin, amongst others have all shared the USADA statement on their instagram stories and some have made statements on top. Gonna be interesting to see if this trend continues.

Swimmun’ Folx
Reply to  I miss the ISL (Go dawgs)
1 month ago

Links please.

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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