By Jonathan Gault
July 13, 2017
On June 26, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced that an arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association found that 400-meter runner Gil Roberts had no fault for an anti-doping rule violation stemming from a test in March. The initial announcement was curious as few details were provided. USADA explained that Roberts’ hearing had been expedited so that he could compete at the USATF Outdoor Championships from June 22-25 in Sacramento, where he made the World Championship team by finishing second in the 400 meters in a personal best of 44.22.
Today, USADA released the full arbitration decision (embedded at the bottom of this story). And it is a doozy.
Roberts, 28, has been one of the U.S.’s top 400 runners in recent years. He was the U.S. champion in 2014 and an Olympic semifinalist in Rio last year, where he won a gold medal as part of the U.S.’s 4×400 relay team. Prior to this case, he had never recorded an adverse analytical finding in a drug test and there were no irregularities in his biological passport. His doping case stems from a test on March 24, 2017, during which he tested positive for probenecid, a masking agent, at an estimated concentration of 9 ng/ml.
Roberts’ defense is where things get interesting. Roberts argued that he had no fault, claiming he ingested the substance through kissing his girlfriend — basically the same defense Canadian pole vaulter Shawn Barber used (successfully) to overturn a cocaine positive at last year’s Canadian Olympic trials (Barber, who has since come out as gay, said he tested positive for cocaine after kissing a woman he met on craigslist).
The story starts with Roberts’ girlfriend of two years, Alex Salazar (no, not Alberto Salazar‘s son – there is no relation to Alberto), taking a trip to India in March. While in a “semi-rural” part of the country, Salazar came down with a sinus infection. Then, according to the arbitration decision,
“Her step-father, who spoke Hindi, took her to a local ‘chemist’ to secure medicine. The place they visited looked like the lower floor of a dwelling. She called it ‘makeshift’ and ‘messy’ and said that the man they dealt with wore street clothes.
“Her step-father explained to the man that Ms. Salazar had trouble swallowing pills and that she needed the medication in capsules so that she could take the capsules apart and swallow the medicine.”
The man gave her some capsules from a box marked “Moxylong” and told her to take one capsule a day for the next two weeks. This was March 14.
Salazar arrived back in the U.S. on March 17 and continued to take the medicine, each time pouring the contents of the capsule in her mouth and swallowing it with water.
The arbitration decision also notes that upon returning to the States that Salazar saw Roberts and “whenever they were together, they kissed frequently and passionately.”
On March 24, Salazar was with Roberts at his apartment. She claimed that sometime between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m., she went to the kitchen and, unbeknownst to Roberts, took her medicine. Upon her return, she kissed Roberts, who “could not count the number of times they kissed between 1:00 p.m. and the doping control officer’s arrival (at 4:07 p.m.).”
Roberts argued that the probenecid showed up in his urine sample as a result of ingesting Moxylong, which contains probenecid, through kissing Salazar. At his hearing, he brought in drug testing expert Dr. Pascal Kintz as an expert witness. Kintz argued that, because probenecid must be taken in large doses (2-5 grams) to work as a masking agent, “it is more than likely that the very low concentration of probenecid measured in the urine of Gil Roberts is the consequence of exposure to minute amounts of the drug, something less than 2 mg within a few hours before specimen collection” and that it was “more than likely” that the probenecid in his system came from kissing Salazar.
For the record, Kintz had “no information regarding how much saliva was present in Ms. Salazar’s mouth, or how much probenecid was in the saliva, or how much saliva was transferred from her mouth to Roberts when they kissed.” Good to know. Even though he’s an expert witness, it would be a bit worrying if Kintz did have access to that information.
USADA’s expert witness, Dr. Matthew Fedoruk, disagreed, stating his opinion that, “it was highly unlikely Roberts would have ingested a significant amount of probenecid from Ms. Salazar’s saliva in the three hours before his sample collection … to result in his adverse analytical finding.” Fedoruk also said that he thought the capsule Salazar took was not Moxylong.
In his decision, Arbitrator John Charles Thomas ruled that Roberts was without fault. As a result, Roberts will not face any ban. And since it was an out-of-competition test, none of his results will be stripped. Thomas wrote in the decision that,
“This Arbitrator is persuaded by Dr. Kintz’ testimony that bits of the probenecid that remained in her mouth after she took her medicine could and did move to his mouth through their frequent passionate kissing … Roberts had dated Ms. Salazar for two years and surely had kissed her before without being charged for a doping violation. Thus, for Roberts it must have been like lightning out of a clear blue sky to learn that by kissing his girlfriend this time that he was exposing himself to a prohibited substance.”
The full arbitration decision appears below. Talk about the results on our messageboard: MB: “Frequent and Passionate” Kissing Results in US 400 Man Gil Roberts Avoiding Doping Suspension.
Full arbitration decision