Keeping the Asterisks out of
How racers cope with doping controls in the lead-up to
the Vancouver Games and other events BY ERIC WILLIAMS
Knock, knock! It’s 6 a.m. and U.S. alpine racer Steven Nyman is awakened
by a stranger knocking on the door of his Heber, Utah, home.
No, the visitor isn’t selling anything or asking for an autograph. Instead,
it’s a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) representative asking for a sam-
ple. Although doping in ski racing hasn’t garnered the headlines it has in
baseball and track, accusations and bans in the nordic disciplines, par-
ticularly affecting the Russian team (eight athletes suspended for use of
banned substances since 2001) has reminded snow sports athletes that the
eyes of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) are always watching. In an
Olympic year the stakes are even higher.
Russia’s recent doping issues prompted a meeting of international cross
country coaches and officials in Norway on November 20 to discuss further
investigations into the Russian nordic team. A day later, FIS head Gian-
Franco Kasper publicly announced that Russia could be looking at sanc-
tions if more doping came to light.
All Olympic hopefuls were required to take a drug test 150 days before the
Vancouver Opening Ceremony. But testing can happen anyplace, anytime.
“They don’t let you know at all when you’re going or when a test is going to
occur,” says Nyman. “I have to tell
them where I am 24/7, addresses
of where I am staying, everything.”
U.S Ski Team athletes are re-
quired to let USADA know where
they will be for one hour every day.
Athletes prep their calendars quar-
terly but have the right to inform
USADA of a change of location up
to one minute before their regular
hour “house arrest” via email or
“It’s always a surprise attack, be-
cause if you know [about a visit],
there are all kinds of blockers people can take to mask restricted substanc-
es,” says Nyman, who was tested three times over the summer months, fol-
lowing normal USADA protocol.
The in-home testing ritual takes about 30 minutes. Once the tester (of the
same gender as the athlete) provides ID, the athlete has two hours to pro-
duce 90 milliliters of urine, which is then separated into several specially
locking containers with serial numbers and bar codes.
Athletes are also tested at competitions. The top three finishers, as well as
a few random athletes, will be taken straight to a drug test. “The randoms
usually tend to be the guys that jump up really quick in the standings,” says
Nyman. “They say it’s totally random but it seems like if you’re successful
they test you a lot more.”
The threat of multiple-season or even lifelong bans is more than enough
motivation for top athletes to read the labels of everything they consume.
Some even abstain completely from potentially problematic medicines and
“A lot of people are pretty stringent about what they eat and take,” says
Nyman, who credits good nutrition for keeping him healthy; he says he
doesn’t have to take cold medicine and other medications that can lead to
positive tests. “You can get all kinds of herbal supplements that have stuff
that isn’t approved; they aren’t monitored
enough to be approve for their cleanliness.”
Nyman says that while many of the doping scandals have involved nordic athletes, alpine skiing is not immune. “Downhill, in the endurance aspect of
the sport, when you’re really hammering for two and half minutes, you can
really benefit from it probably,” he says. “It’s just that extra pop, that extra little bit. You see some of these guys approaching the bottom of these
courses with just this energy and ferocity and you’re like, ‘I have no clue
how I can muster that up after that long on the course.’”
USSA Medical Director Richard Quincy says all of the athletes understand and accept that the ideal goal is to maintain fair sport and clean
sport. “Often times the athletes get frustrated, initially with the process of
reporting their whereabouts, and the daily updates required when schedules change,” says Quincy, who is notified of positive or missed tests by US.
Ski or Snowboard athletes. “But in the end everyone has the same responsibilities in order to maintain fair and clean sport.”
While the timing of tests is most
often a surprise, what the labs are
looking for is no secret. Yearly-up-dated lists of banned substances
can be viewed by anyone on USA-
DA’s website. “They test for everything, from improper use of cold
and allergy medications to anabolic agents and hormones, diuretics, masking agents, gene doping,
chemical manipulation, oxygen
transports or enhancements,” says
Quincy. “There are slight changes
to the prohibited list made every
year by WADA which is always been made public to everyone. One of our
challenges is educating athletes who aren’t on the national team about the
process and the reporting responsibilities when they show up at events.”
Quincy says he has only seen one positive test in three years with the
team, a positive marijuana result from a non-National Team snowboarder.
“There have been situations in which athletes are not even aware of the fact
that they can be tested at these events,” he says.
Quincy adds that the U.S. Ski Team does all it can to help athletes avoid
problems. “The athletes have excellent resources; they all get handed wallet cards that have the list of permitted and prohibited substances and the
have access to global internet resources,” he says. “There is also a hotline
within the United States they can use to help with the reporting responsibilities as well as ask questions about certain medications if they do not
have Internet access. USADA provides program assistance and sport assistance by their staff which is also available as a resource to the athlete.”
Quincy also drives home the point that it is all about athlete health. “The
danger of the using of supplements, to be honest, is that those products are
not guaranteed to be safe and may have potential issues with contamination,” says Quincy. “Any athlete that decides to take supplements chooses to
do so at their own risk.”