Drug Testing in Non-Drafting Professional Triathlon

A couple of months ago, I sent out a survey to fellow professional triathletes, all of whom focus on non-drafting racing (olympic distance, half-iron distance, and iron-distance).  The purpose of the survey was simply to find out how much folks had been drug tested, and by whom, in the time period from January 2013 – September 2013.  I had 34 respondents.

One can certainly argue about the ineffectiveness of drug testing, as many convicted dopers have never popped positive, or maybe only popped positive 1 or 2 times, out of the dozens (or hundreds) of times they’ve been tested.  But I still think drug testing is an absolute vital cornerstone to anti-doping efforts, because without it, doping would turn into a “wild wild west” situation.  Anything, and everything, would go, no matter how brazen.  Drug testing at least provides the threat of a deterrent, and in the case where it actually does catch someone, provides unambiguous proof that they were operating outside the rules to defraud fellow competitors of prize money and sponsorships.

The results are below:

racesNewinCompWTCnewoutOfCompWTCnewracesNonWTCnewnonWTCinCompNew

nonWTCoutCompNewdrugProblemNew

What do these results tell us?

-The vast majority of professional triathletes who specialize in non-drafting triathlon were not tested, either in-, or out-of, competition, from Jan 2013 – Sep 2013.

-Out of 160 WTC “race events”, there were 21 in-competition drug tests (13%) .  Out of 70 non-WTC “race events”, there were 3 in-competition drug tests (4%) .  (I’m defining a “race event” as a single person doing a single race.  So one person doing 6 different races would be defined as 6 “race events”).  These in-competition test numbers were largely made up of only a couple of athletes being tested multiple times.

-There are a minority who get tested frequently by the WTC.  This would indicate “targeted testing” by the WTC, most likely aimed at the top performers.  While I wish everyone would get tested, targeted testing at top performers is a reasonable allocation of resources by them.  Out-of-competition testing by the WTC, however, is very sparse.  This is a bit disappointing, because you’re more likely to catch a doper with an unexpected out-of-competition test, than with a more predictable in-competition test.

-Non-WTC race organizations essentially don’t test.  Pretty much anything goes at non-WTC events, in terms of doping.  This is very disappointing & frustrating to me.  The WTC’s program certainly isn’t perfect, but at least they’re trying…  Gotta give them some credit for that.

I’m not going to pretend to know all about the economics of drug testing.  That’s not the point of this article.  I’m just trying to shed some light on how frequently drug testing actually happens.

I think one of the things we’ve learned over the last 10 years is that drug testing is only one part of the equation when it comes to anti-doping efforts.  I think anti-doping efforts have to start with education from a young age, teaching about the dangers associated with doping, and and unethical nature of it.  I also think we have to encourage whistle blowers to stand up, and be more willing to accept “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” types of evidence.  I’m certainly not proposing we regress to 1950’s era McCarthy-ism, where everyone is on a witch hunt, just flinging around accusations.  But simply proposing that we encourage people, who have evidence against a doper, to stand up, and not be afraid of being intimidated by dopers.  Not be afraid about presenting evidence against an athlete if they have credible evidence, just because that athlete hasn’t popped positive, yet.  After all, Lance only popped positive once or twice, out of hundreds of drug tests.  And he was the biggest drug cheat in sports history…

Until next time… Keep training hard, and resting harder!

Doug MacLean

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