Lizzie Armitstead, the current road world champion from Great Britain, will be going to Rio. Nothing special about that you would think – after all, she is the world champion.
Nothing, but for the small fact that she missed, not one, not two, but three out-of-competition tests in the space of a 12-month period.
Drug testers from UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) could not find Armistead on three occasions during the past year (August 20 2015, October 5, 2015, and June 9, 2016), resulting in an automatic suspension from the sport, pending an independent review into whether she had violated doping rules.
So on July 11, 2016, the UKAD provisionally suspended her, as they were bound to, for the three missed tests.
On July 21, the Court of Arbitration for Sport heard her case, and expunged from her record the first of the three missed tests.
That put her back on the road to Rio.
The UKAD called her at the hotel during the UCI Women’s Road World Cup, her phone was on silent, and they didn’t find her because they didn’t look for her properly!
She accepted responsibility and chose not to appeal the other two, mostly because she didn’t need to. All she needed to do was to avoid the three strikes. And she did.
It’s an interesting case. WADA allows athletes to update their whereabouts, even in emergency situations, using the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS). Athletes can also have their agent or another representative submit their whereabouts information on their behalf. The three strikes in a year are allowed precisely because it is indeed possible that athletes can miss one or even two ‘whereabouts’ tests due to circumstances beyond their control.
The world of cycling – which is, of course, supremely sensitive on the issue thanks to the Lance Armstrong story – and athletes in general have reacted with broad condemnation and disbelief.
Experienced Canadian mountain biker Geoff Kabush tweeted, “1st test understandable but I’d be hyper aware about missing 2nd. If I missed 2nd there is no chance I’d miss 3rd???”
American Katie Compton replied: “Agreed. I’ve messed up my whereabouts 3x in 13 years. Twice in one year will stress you out enough to not miss a third!”
Ottilie Quince, a transplant world champion cyclist who also carries out testing work under WADA, said: “I can’t understand how an athlete can miss 3 tests when #whereabouts is clearly filled in & checked 20 mins b4 by us four changes.”
Bridie O’Donnell, who held the women’s hour record earlier this year, gave her take on the case, and the question of doping in women’s cycling more generally:
“My opinion about doping in #womenscycling has always been that it was rare because of the cost, lack of profile andamp; lack of incentive – i.e. winning a World Cup / women’s GT equivalent was far less life changing than for male pro cyclists, so the risk wasn’t worth the reward ,” she wrote across a series of tweets.
“So what worries me about LA is not ‘what if she were Russian?’ but more, what if she were Sagan / Froome / Cancellara? We’d assume guilt. ”
Former British Olympic rowing gold medallist Zac Purchase said on Twitter, “Given huge amount of resources @ their disposal, having multiple missed tests/filing failure is a monumental cockup! Imagine what we would be saying if she was Russian … #NotWorthIt #KeepSportClean.”
What bothers people even more is the fact that Armistead was suspended by UKDA was kept a closely guarded secret until a Daily Mail reporter brought out the story. While this is not inconsistent with UKDA rules, conspiracy theories are inevitably doing the rounds.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to miss two tests may be regarded as misfortune; to miss three looks like carelessness.
With so much focus on doping in the run up to Rio, Lizzie Armitstead has clearly chosen the wrong time to be careless.