If you’re an Olympic athlete, you might want to steer clear of steroids.
That’s particularly true around testing time.
Just ask 28-year-old track and field star Shelby Houlihan: In December, her world came crashing down courtesy of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
And now — just a week before Olympic trials — she’s been handed a four-year ban.
The 2016 Olympian was considered a real contender this time around.
In 2018, she came from behind to take the USA Track and Field national outdoor championships 1500m women’s national title:
That year, she became the second woman to ever to win both the USATF 1500m and 5000m.
More from RunnersWorld:
She set the 1500-meter American record of 3:54.99 in October 2019 at the [Doha World Athletics Championships], where she finished fourth.
In 2020, while all major competition opportunities had been canceled due to the pandemic, her team hosted a series of intrasquad meets. On July 10, Houlihan ran 14:23.92 for 5,000 meters, breaking her own American record of 14:34.45 from 2018.
She hadn’t competed yet this year, and on Monday evening, her absence was explained: The December 15th test had sidelined her.
But her story isn’t what you might assume.
Specifically, Shelby had registered positive for nandrogen, which — per NBC Sports — is “an androgen and anabolic steroid known to increase muscle mass.”
Via a virtual press conference, sports attorney and Global Sports Advocates founder Paul Greene told reporters she did nothing wrong:
“Shelby is an innocent athlete. What happened to her is entirely unjust.”
Head coach Jerry Schumaker is heartbroken:
“I don’t have the words to articulate the depth of sadness I feel for you.”
Following her test, Shelby reportedly retraced her dietary steps.
Her team believes they’ve found the culprit that unfairly flagged her:
[They believe] the result came from a pork burrito Houlihan purchased at a food truck near her home in Beaverton, Oregon, and ate the night before the 6 a.m. test.
According to NBC, World Anti-Doping Agency documents have previously noted that meat consumption — particularly that of swine — can result in the presence of nandralone.
They’ve been trying to prove she wasn’t at fault:
Greene explained that Houlihan initially received a provisional suspension of more than three months, which caused them to opt for a single hearing before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
In the interim, Houlihan had a hair sample tested and passed a polygraph test in an effort to prove her innocence. Greene hired a private investigator and former WADA scientist to help prove their case as well. He pushed for the sample to be tested at a second lab to no avail.
According to Greene, Houlihan has been tested approximately 100 times since 2016 and has never tested positive or missed a test in that time.
The hearing took place the first week of June. Friday saw the ban announced.
Three days later, Shelby posted to Instagram about her plight.
“Since I started running when I was 5 years old,” she wrote, “I’ve had dreams of running professionally, setting records, winning an Olympic gold medal and being one of the best in the world. I have always blindly believed that I was good enough to achieve those things.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve put in more time, more miles, have become more dedicated, and have learned to genuinely love this sport. It’s what brings me the most joy. It’s where I feel the most me. I have always done it the right way. I’ve put my head down and just worked at being better year after year. I’ve stayed patient and trusted that the work and consistency would show.”
“I still have all of the same dreams,” she noted. “I had when I was 5 and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been able to have achieved some of them. I still have others that I’m working towards. But the thing that truly drives me is the love and joy I get from what I do and the curiosity to find out what my potential is.”
As relayed by NBC, during the press conference, “she fought back tears.”
“I feel completely devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed by the very sport that I loved and poured myself into just to see how good I was.”
She emphasized her innocence:
“I want to be very clear: I’ve never taken any performance-enhancing substances, and that includes the one of which I have been accused. … I do this sport because I love it, I have so much fun doing it, and it’s always the best part of my day.”
“This sport means everything to me,” she said. “I believe doping and cheating is weak. … I would never disrespect the sport, my competitors, my teammates, my coaches, my family and my fans this way. I love the sport too much.
Tragically, she’s eyeing the possible loss of a dream:
“I’ve always wanted to stand at the top of an Olympic podium with a gold medal around my neck, knowing I did that, and now I am not sure that will ever happen.”
If she’s not guilty of the charge, here’s to hoping Shelby finds justice and the opportunity to take her talent as far as it can go.
NBC reports she’s “considering an appeal to the Swiss federal tribunal.”
Putting the issue of Shelby somewhat aside, another historical component stands out: Chalk up one more to all the big stinks on which burritos have been blamed.
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