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A Waste Of Good Irish Whiskey

Facing Suspension After Drug Test Showed Obvious Signs Of Tampering


Karin Helmstaedt

On April 29 the The Times in London broke the story: Ireland's controversial swimming wonder, Michelle Smith-de Bruin, was facing a possible life suspension from the sport after an out-of-competition (OOC) drug test had showed obvious signs of tampering. A brief press release from FINA announced that the A sample of a urine test provided by Smith-de Bruin showed "unequivocal signs of adulteration and that the result of the analysis was compatible with physical manipulation."

On the same day, the triple Olympic gold medallist held a press conference in her solicitor's office in Dublin to specify what charges were laid against her. Reading from an 11-page statement, Smith-de Bruin said FINA had sent the news to the Irish Swimming Association on April 27. Given that they had been aware of the result since Feb.5, she questioned why FINA had taken so long to inform her. Although no notice of an actual positive result had come to her attention, she stands nevertheless accused of three things: a) of taking advantage of a banned procedure; b) of using a banned substance; c) of using a substance and a method that alter the integrity and validity of the urine sample used during doping control.

Erik and Michelle behind the fence at last summer's Europeans
Click image for larger photo.

The sample, taken in her home on January 10 and analyzed in the IOC-accredited laboratory in Barcelona, was reported by the lab as "having a very strong whiskey odour," and an alcohol level "in no way compatible with human consumption."

"Were this not the most serious challenge to my career and my credibility," Smith-de Bruin went on, "it would be mildly amusing." She then went a step further, adding that the results of analysis indicated the presence of "a metabolic pre-cursor of testosterone." What followed was a lengthy and detailed commentary about testosterone-epitestosterone ratios and the acceptable specific gravity of urine samples. She was innocent, she said, and any manipulation could only have happened after the sample had left her home in Kilkenny.

But there were some points that were less well researched; Smith-de Bruin's sweeping and repeated claims that she has "been tested out of competition more than any other swimmer in recent history" are impressive to the layman, but totally unfounded given that she cannot possibly know how frequently other swimmers are tested. In countries where national federations carry out additional OOC testing, some swimmers have been known to be tested several times a month.

She then expressed her outrage at how the information had been leaked to the media, citing "FINA's Doping Control Rule 6.8 which provides that confidentiality would be observed by all persons connected with Doping Control until such time as the competitor is sanctioned in accordance with FINA Rules." The rule in question does not exist. And for the record, it is also usual for the media to be informed of a positive A sample, as was the case with the four positive tests from Chinese swimmers at the World Championships in Perth.

Smith-de Bruin stated her intention to fight the charges made against her, if necessary, all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. In the meantime she went on to compete over the May 1 weekend in Sarcelles, France, where she was actively sheltered from the media. Given until May 18 to request that the B sample be tested, and late on Friday, May 15, Smith-de Bruin put in a request to FINA to have the twin sample tested. Her solicitor, Peter Lennon will travel to Barcelona with an expert on May 21 to observe the procedure. If the test results confirm the findings of the A sample, the case will go before the FINA Doping Panel some time in June.

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