Why You Shouldn't Believe Marion Jones: Vol. 29

Story by Eric.

(This is the 29th part of a long series titled, "Why You Shouldn't Believe Marion Jones". This series depicts the life and times of a (former) woman sprinter whose lies and cover-ups about doping in sport continue even through this day.)

This is the concluding section on the EPO testing - the first "real" exposure Marion Jones had to being materially connected to performance-enhancing drugs.

(Continued from Volume 28)

The check-and-balance system came into being in early 2005 when a few of WADA’s accredited laboratories revealed to them that “in certain rare circumstances” EPO which was produced naturally in the body had the capability of shifting into r-EPO and therefore have the possibility of yielding false positive results.

The independent laboratory used as a WADA-prescribed check-and-balance in conjunction with the UCLA laboratory to provide independent confirmation or dissent in adverse sample findings, also drew a conclusion from the “A”-sample which corresponded to Marion Jones’s chain of command number, namely that the “A”-sample it reviewed following the handling of the UCLA laboratory showed positive signs of r-EPO in concert with performance-enhancing drugs usage.

The WADA EPO testing system has had critique from scholars and scientists who have stated the testing process is not fool-proof.

Wada has issued a number of clarification documents, in which they've indicated to laboratories that they must get another lab to look at the results before they issue it.

They have these safety measures in place because they started to notice that in cases where they would read the data and say, 'yes, synthetic EPO is definitely being used', naturally-occurring EPO can also be in there as an aberration.

They're saying that if the test and its assessment is properly applied, then it's valid. But they're also saying that there's room for error.[1]

Neither Murray nor Jacobs discussed the independent laboratory’s test analysis results, rather went straight for the heart of the UCLA laboratory’s perfect record and testing protocols. They were unable to rebut the presumption that the UCLA anti-doping laboratory conducted its sample analysis and carried out its custodial procedures in accordance with the International WADA-standard for laboratory analysis by establishing as fact that a departure from this accepted standard had, indeed, occurred.

Lastly, Murray stated that the UCLA laboratory had interpreted the r-EPO image – one he considered to be moderately faint – too aggressively.

However, one is reminded that the UCLA laboratory had erred on the side of caution in previous tests, and had no information on whose sample was being reviewed at the time the “A”-sample corresponding to Marion Jones was deemed positive; the UCLA laboratory had, on instances involving what would be considered “close calls”, gave the benefit of the doubt to the athlete rather than making an assumption without adequate recourse.

Would there be a reason that the laboratory, acting against protocol, would risk being too aggressive against a sample which, in the course of their workload, was one in a lot of others without any identification apart from the numbered system which is attached to a name with which the testers do not come into contact?

As noted earlier, Dick Pound wavered on whether or not the “A”-sample test result was caused by the laboratory error, or whether or not the “B”-sample was simply not read accurately to confirm the adverse findings discovered in the “A”-sample.

I’ve considered the botched job perspective, but it is completely nonsensical for me to believe that suddenly, out of the clear blue sky – in the exact moment someone had a positive “A”-sample corresponding number-to-name equalling Marion Jones – someone happened to fall asleep at the wheel, and all testing protocol and the laboratory’s reputation was reduced to rubbish, especially with the stakes being played according to Dr. Catlin’s notation below.

We do know we have to get the answer right and we have to document it because, in my world, I'm going to be in court a couple months after I call a positive test and if I get it wrong, I have to find a new job. It's really kind of that simple.[2]

The only evident point against the laboratory is it is under-funded – a point which Dr. Catlin brought before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, as excerpted below:

As I mentioned at the beginning, the kind of research currently funded by USADA is a necessary part of the anti-doping effort. It keeps labs world wide up to date on their testing methods. It is, unfortunately, completely inadequate to keep up with the cheaters. If you want to seriously address drugs in sport then long term, well-funded, flexible and confidential research is what is needed.

To help this fight, I have recently established the Anti-Doping Research Institute (“ADR”). Our efforts will focus on many of these areas I have outlined for you today. But it is just one small step. Without adequate funding and independence, anti-doping efforts are doomed to always be behind the cheaters.[3]

Marion Jones’s attorneys had not considered using a word which categorically opposes a notion that the “A”-sample was positive. This medium between right and wrong, exoneration and banishment was a fine line, according to Marion Jones’s attorneys. The “B”-sample lifted Marion Jones’s feet from both sides, straight up to Nirvana – a place where she stated she was ecstatic, but one which would be her last feeling of such a kind, as her forthcoming drugs admission one year later would kill off that counterfeit joy.

Her exoneration was stated to have lifted her to a place where she had been cleared from any past doping questions based on this test – a statement which, as had so many others, was based solely on a fabrication of the truth or completely on a lie.

Questions about doping were raised in a specific forum held by the IAAF during a three-day anti-doping symposium in Lausanne, Switzerland in October 2006, a forum aimed at curtailing drugs usage, and enabling better out-of-competition access to athletes, among other critical subjects discussed. Also introduced were “health passports" for athletes, a whistle blowing hotline for those who had specific knowledge of drugs abuse, and quicker “A”-sample to “B”-sample testing to be introduced the fight against doping.

The IAAF, along with officials and competitors who were involved in the symposium, agreed that collecting individual blood samples from athletes and storing them in a world-wide database would enable drug testers to better identify drug cheats by identifying athlete-specific markers, instead of using markers from a general athlete population.

It's not that we suspect individual athletes but we wish to protect the vast majority who aren't doing anything wrong from those who try to cheat you, rob you and steal your glory,” WADA executive committee member Arne Ljungqvist said. “That's why we need to profile all athletes individually.[4]

The IAAF council stated on Wednesday, 2006-November-15, that it would conduct 2.200 to 2.300 out-of-competition tests and 1.300 to 1.400 in-competition controls. Dr. Catlin spoke out 11 years earlier about the need to provide no-notice testing to athletes in sports considered high-risk.

Dr. Catlin has a vision to replace the current model – one in which all athletes are treated as suspects, monitored and tested – with a voluntary system that would show athletes who take part in it are clean. He believes that athletes who choose not to participate would immediately become suspect.

Dr. Catlin's program would record volunteer athlete profiles by creating a set of “biomarkers” collected by a battery of human biochemistry tests including testosterone, epitestosterone, growth hormone, insulin levels, anything that could be affected by a performance-enhancing drug to establish a baseline – an idea he first brought up in 1995 when speaking with the USOC board of directors about the state of drug testing.

However, one pitfall with the Catlin-model is that athletes who choose not to participate would be branded cheaters – or be suspected.

USADA did ultimately adopt a similar programme, opting for volunteer athletes to leave urine and blood samples to testers upon which markers could be set to determine drug use.

The project, entitled “Project Believe”, will profile the body chemistry of 12 participating athletes using a series of blood and urine tests, and those measurements will be used as a baseline for subsequent tests.

Americans Bryan Clay and Allyson Felix are two of the identified athletes whose participation has been documented.

Marion Jones would never have participated in such a programme.

The IAAF, taking a similar approach – though not with volunteers, believes that taking an individual approach would resolve problems associated with noted physiological differences among various populations and ethnic groups. Athletes demonstrating inexplicably high blood levels marked against their own profiles would be subject to a “no-start rule”.

The “no-start rule” would not be a banning from the sport for suspicion of drugs usage, rather would be a signal that medical grounds call for further sample investigation from the athlete. The athlete would be inactivated from competitions pending the analysis of the new testing against the individual stored profile.

How would this have been received by Marion Jones’s team in 2006 when she was alerted of her “A”-sample test?

(The next chapter in this affair will focus on Trevor Graham, the man whom Marion Jones ultimately stated was responsible for her unknowing performance-enhancing drug consumption)


[1] BBC Sport, “How Jones was cleared”, 2006-09-07

[2] Excerpted from: The Jockey Club Annual Round Table Conference, 2005

[3] Don Catlin Testimony Full Committee Hearing S. 529/U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, 2005-05-24

[4] The Sydney Morning Herald, “Health profiles ‘needed to fight doping’”, 2006-10-03

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