The US record holder in the women’s 1500 and 5000 meters, Shelby Houlihan, has tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid.
The 28-year-old Houlihan has been suspended from athletics by the AIU (Athletics Integrity Unit) for four years after testing positive for the banned substance nandrolone.
Houlihan was notified of the positive test, which dated from a sample provided to the Athletics Integrity Unit in December 2020, in January and has spent the last five months appealing her case.
After the AIU informed Houlihan of her positive test, she was provisionally suspended, but the AIU neglected to charge her immediately. Believing herself to be innocent.
But with the Olympic Trials looming in June, inpatient Houlihan gambled by hired a lawyer, Paul Greene, who pressed the AIU to charge her with a violation so that she could appeal her case before the Trials.
Second error by her, rather than go through the regular AIU appeal process, Houlihan’s team requested an emergency hearing from the Court of Arbitration of Sport to resolve the situation before the Trials. The whole gamble backfired when on June 11, one week before the Trials were due to start, she was informed by CAS that her appeal was unsuccessful and that her four-year ban had been upheld.
Houlihan’s only remaining course of action is to appeal the decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, but that process would take months and require hiring a Swiss lawyer.
Houlihan and her legal team argued that the nandrolone stemmed from pork in a burrito she had consumed the night before the test and provided a receipt and iPhone locator data to back up her explanation.
“In Shelby’s case, she ate a burrito about 10 hours before [her test] from a Mexican [food truck] that we concluded very, very early on that [the burrito] contained pig organ meat,” Greene said. “Pig organ meat is one of the sources for nandrolone. Ten hours before would have been perfect in terms of the timing of the level that was in Shelby’s system (5 ng/mL), which was an extremely low level.”
Nandrolone can improve an athlete’s ability to train harder. It reduces tiredness, meaning athletes can recover quicker from a hard training session. It also helps the body to build muscle by producing more protein, which aids the development of muscle tissue.
“I feel 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,” Houlihan wrote in an Instagram post.
“I want to be very clear. I have never taken any performance-enhancing substances. And that includes that of which I am being accused.”
Houlihan runs for the Nike-sponsored Bowerman Track Club which is based in Portland, Oregon and is coached by Jerry Schumacher and former marathon star Shalane Flanagan.