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U.S. Olympic hopeful Shelby Houlihan is speaking out after testing positive for an anabolic steroid she claims came from a burrito she ate late last year.
The middle-distance runner - who is the current national champion, and holds records for both 1,500- and 5,000-meter distances - has been banned from the sport for four years by the Athletics Integrity Unit.
The AIU announced the suspension during a virtual press conference Monday, Sports Illustrated reported. On Twitter the following day, the AIU said that the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the unit's charge in banning the athlete due to "the Presence of a Nandrolone metabolite, a violation of @WorldAthletics Anti-Doping Rules." The AIU said Houlihan tested positive on Dec. 15, in a ban effective Jan. 14, 2021.
In an Instagram post Monday night, Houlihan said she felt "completely devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed by the very sport that I've loved and poured myself into just to see how good I was."
"I want to be very clear. I have never taken any performance enhancing substances. And that includes that of which I am being accused," the 28-year-old runner said.
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According to SI, Houlihan took the out-of-competition drug test in December, which returned with a result of 5 ng/mL of nandrolone. She said on Instagram that she consumed a burrito containing pork near her home in Oregon about 10 hours before the test, which she alleges produced the positive result.
"Although my levels were consistent with those of subjects in studies who were tested 10 hours after eating this source and WADA technical guidelines require the lab to consider it when analyzing nandrolone, the lab never accounted for this possibility," she said during the Monday press conference, SI reports.
"I did everything I could to prove my innocence," Houlihan claimed. "I passed a polygraph test. I had my hair sampled by one of the world's foremost toxicologists. WADA agreed that test proved that there was no build up of this substance in my body, which there would have been if I were taking it regularly. Nothing moved the lab from their initial snap decision."
"Instead, they simply concluded that I was a cheater and that a steroid was ingested orally, but not regularly," the athlete alleged. "I believe my explanation fits the facts much better - because it's true. I also believe it was dismissed without proper due process."
Paul Greene, a lawyer for Global Sports Advocates, says pig meat has the potential to serve as a source for nandrolone, which heightens muscle mass, according to the outlet.
Last month, Olivier Rabin from the World Anti-Doping Agency said in a statement that "Inadvertent doping due to the contamination of meat or medication is a very complex issue, especially in light of the ever-growing levels of sensitivity achieved in the detection of prohibited substances by WADA-accredited laboratories."
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Many in the athletic community have come out in support of Houlihan, who was initially expected to participate in U.S. Olympic Trials in Oregon this month, with the hopes of competing in the Tokyo Games later this summer.
"Throughout this process we were confident that the truth would lead to justice," wrote Houlihan's Bowerman Track Club coach Jerry Schumacher in a letter on the group's website. "What I've come to learn instead is that anti-doping authorities are okay with convicting innocent athletes so long as nine out of ten convictions are legitimate. That is wrong.
Bowerman Track Club coach Shalane Flanagan said in a lengthy Instagram post on Monday, "I am devastated. I am gutted. I am broken. I am overwhelmed. I am sad. I am angry. I am so so mad."
"With every fiber of my being I know Shelby did not cheat and would never," she added. "All Shelby has ever wanted to find out in every workout, every race is: how good can she be?"