We still haven't seen the full details of the CAS verdict but the summary is here:
It's interesting that the grounds for appeal were that her B sample was improperly tested, in this case, that the AIU should have investigated the pig offal in greater detail. The evidence presented to CAS by the AIU allowed the court to reject Houlihan's grounds for appeal.
Leaving that aside, and any question of whether we should believe Houlihan or not, there are some red flags in this case that journalists should be investigating and asking of Houlihan and Schumacher:
1. Houlihan had 5 ng/mL in her system, which is more than double the legal limit of 2 ng/mL. Why do Houlihan's team contend that this is a "trace amount"? In cases to which this is being compared, such as Jarrion Lawson and A'jee Wilson, the dope found in their systems really were trace amounts (0.65 ng/mL in Lawson's case). The claim that 5 ng/ML is a trace amount makes me question the honesty of the BTC team. If your claim is that the steroid was inadvertently ingested, then why try to frame a quantity of more than double the legal limit as a trace amount? It has the air of a PR push rather than an evidence-based defence.
2. As many others have pointed out, Schumacher claiming he had never heard of nandrolone is difficult to believe given the history of it's use within T&F. It's almost a protest too far.
3. The claim that nandrolone does not benefit runners is absurd. Nandrolone has a nasty history in T&F and sport in general. It is proven to improve athletic performance, aiding endurance by carrying more oxygen to the muscles via red blood cells, building muscle mass, and enhancing recovery. Why did the BTC team feel the need to include this patently false assertion?
4. What is the actual claim regarding the burrito? The statements by Flanagan, Schumacher, and Houlihan all stated that she ate a burrito and that the truck served pig offal. They do not clearly state that Houlihan ate a pig offal burrito, instead, it looks like she ordered a beef burrito. So, is the claim that the beef was somehow cross-contaminated by pork in the food truck? Or did the truck give her the wrong order? That remains unclear but the failure to be up front about what was eaten (again, in stark contrast to the Lawson and Wilson cases) is not a good look.
5. How likely is it that Houlihan ate around 300g of pig offal at precisely the length of time (10 hours) before she was due to be tested? In this article, it states that 310g of offal from a particular type of uncastrated boar raised nandrolone levels to around that found in Houlihan's system after 10 hours, but the level returned to normal after 24 hours. This is one hell of a coincidence. A sceptic might ask whether the details were made to fit around the evidence
6. Related to point 5, how likely is it that uncastrated pig offal found it's way into the food supply? Nearly all male pigs in the US are castrated
7. The performance improvement between 2017 and 2018, her third year as a pro. She went from a consistent 4:06 runner (every result in 2017 was 4:06, with a best of 4:03 from 2016), to a 3:57 runner a year later. In 2017, she ran 15:00 for 5000m, and 14:34 a year later. Performance jumps happen but they should always be viewed sceptically when they are of that magnitude and especially now what we have a positive dope test from the athlete.
8. CAS heard all of the evidence offered by Houlihan's legal team and determined that they had not proved the pig offal defence. Is this because her receipt said she didn't order a pig meat burrito? Or that the levels of nandrolone found were too high to plausibly come from ingesting tainted meat? Nobody knows for sure at this point, but an independent panel of international experts did not believe her evidence.
I'm willing to listen to Houlihan's version of events and consider the evidence, but as it stands, her story relies on a remarkable series of coincidences. Maybe she is that unlucky. Alternatively, maybe the drug ended up in her system inadvertently but she doesn't know how, so the Nike PR unit put together this superficially plausible story. Whatever the case, I think the media needs to raise these questions rather than relying on gut instincts and think hard about why they are giving Houlihan the benefit of the doubt despite these red flags.
A final point, it's disturbing to me that BTC, and to some extent, a sympathetic US media, are willing to bring down the entire anti-doping edifice to protect an athlete they like. Schumacher has gone after the integrity of the AIU and WADA in a way that risks setting back the anti-doping agenda years. Anti-doping is flawed, we know that but once you tear down the institutions that investigate drug use in sport, or start to make exceptions for some countries as some are suggesting in this case, then the system fails and the sport will collapse. We'll be back to the EPO era where nothing is believable. It's not a good sign when a person is willing to burn down the house because one decision went against them.