Shelby Houlihan Releases Statement Detailing Her Past Year & Criticizing Athletics Integrity Unit

By LetsRun.com
May 24, 2022

One week after announcing her final appeal of her four-year doping suspension to the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland had been dismissed, American women’s 1500 and 5000-meter record holder Shelby Houlihan released a lengthy statement sharing her thoughts on her case. Houlihan had provided sporadic updates since the news of her positive test broke in June 2021 but had refrained from speaking about the specifics of her case at length “due to not wanting to upset the AIU (Athletics Integrity Unit) during her appeals process.”

In a statement addressed to “Clean Athletes,” Houlihan explained the steps she had taken over the past year to attempt to clear her name, including testing her vitamins in a lab for contamination and hiring a private investigator to investigate the food truck where she ate the burrito that Houlihan cited as the source of the banned steroid nandrolone in her positive test. She also criticized the Athletics Integrity Unit and the way it handled her case.

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“For an organization that stands on accountability, there is none for them,” Houlihan wrote. “I believe that the system is more focused on banning athletes rather than figuring out and valuing the truth. I do not believe they are protecting clean athletes…I don’t believe I am the first innocent athlete that this has happened to and unless we change something, I unfortunately will not be the last.”

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Houlihan also gave her first lengthy interviews since the news in over a year, speaking with Sarah Lorge Butler of Runner’s World (that article is now behind their paywall so we have summarized it for you here) and appearing on the Running Effect Podcast. The Running Effect Podcast is hosted by high schooler Dominic Schlueter, who has conducted interviews with eight other Bowerman Track Club athletes/staff members in the last three months.

Houlihan’s full statement:

Dear Clean Athletes,
I want to tell you about my experience with the AIU and WADA anti-doping organizations that are put in place to protect you. You may support and believe me and my case or you may not. If you don’t, I understand and that’s ok. I was also once in your shoes. Hearing about some of these cases where athletes are “caught” and their explanations being something that they consumed was tainted or whatever it was. I too wondered if they were really telling the truth. Because how can you truly know, right? I trusted that the anti-doping agencies in charge would do their due diligence. I didn’t put too much energy into it because it didn’t really affect me or what I was doing. I brushed it off and continued on. The only thing I knew with 100% certainty was that I did things the right way and that’s all that mattered. Until it didn’t.
When I was first notified of my positive test, I was shocked and depressed beyond words. I cried every day for weeks. My actual worst nightmare within this sport had just come to life. I had a positive test with no idea of how it happened. Surely there must have been some mistake. I hadn’t done anything. Did they mix up my sample with someone else’s? Did someone mess up or tamper with the test? How could this have happened? My thoughts were racing, trying to think back to December. What in the hell is 19-Norandrosterone? Could I have eaten something weird? Did I take a new supplement? Did someone give me something that I didn’t know about? What the fuck happened?
After the initial shock had worn down, I just tried to trust and believe in the drug testing process. After all, it’s there to protect clean athletes. I thought, once they start investigating, digging and trying to figure out the truth, they would obviously see that I’m innocent and everything would be fine. It had to be. They don’t ban innocent athletes. They protect them. Right?
The process wasn’t what I believed it was or should be. It wasn’t an investigation with questions, fact checking, interviews, or anything of that nature. They had their lab sample and that was it. Case closed. I felt like the reality was, “we have a positive test on you and that’s all we need. We don’t care about the truth. In fact, we will do everything we possibly can to try to keep you from and disprove whatever your truth is.”
From the start, there was a huge lack of communication from the AIU on what was happening. For the first 4 months, we didn’t receive any updates or any type of timeline, even after asking for them. Most of our emails were met with silence. For all I knew, they weren’t doing anything with my case. They were just sitting there, letting time go by while I couldn’t compete and trying to put it off as long as they could. It wasn’t until we reached out to the Court of Arbitration to intervene in the case that the AIU actually charged me with a doping violation over 4 months later. If we hadn’t had them intervene, I don’t know how long they would have carried that on for.
Prior to my hearing, the AIU offered me a plea deal. If I admitted my “guilt”, we would not go to a hearing and I would receive a 3 year ban instead of 4 years. This would allow me to compete in the next Olympics and I would save the money that I would spend defending myself. I didn’t feel that this was an option for me as I knew I had not intentionally cheated so instead, I decided to try to fight for my career and defend my reputation.
It was an uphill battle. Me against them. They had everything they already needed. I had nothing but the knowledge of my innocence and no true way to prove it. We asked them to do a pharmacokinetic analysis which we believed would help to prove the source of Nandrolone (it being exogenous or endogenous). They told us no, they didn’t have to because it’s not required of them. In my case, the technical document advised for a second opinion. When we asked for one, we were again told that even though it was advised, it wasn’t required, so they didn’t and wouldn’t do it.
How are these things not required of you? I want to believe that if there is any testing that can be done to help provide the truth, that should be required. I want to believe that if we are talking about taking away someone’s future, that more than one person should be consulted on it. Especially when that single expert opinion has been shown to have provided false testimony against another athlete in a previous case. You have my career, my reputation, and my future in your hands. Shouldn’t you be required to make sure that you are right?
Frantically, we tried to think of ways to provide the truth the best we could. I sent a hair sample to France to be tested by one of the world’s best toxicologists. It came back 100% clean. Not even a trace of Nandrolone to which the AIU conceded that it could not have been an injection. I sat in a chair hooked up to all sorts of different wires to take a lie detector test with one of the most decorated forensic polygraph experts. I passed with only a .02% chance of deception. We hired a private investigator to investigate the food truck I had eaten at the night before the test. We shipped all of my vitamins and all of the different meats offered at that food truck to a lab to be tested; even knowing that the source meat would be different from what I ate 2 months ago. None of those tests gave us the answers we were hoping for. We had experts look at my sample results and give us their professional opinion of whether or not these results were possible with the ingestion of pig offal. With the experts we consulted, the answer was always yes, according to these levels, this is very possible.
None of this was enough. In the final verdict, the panel stated that they thought my explanation was possible but not probable. In other words, I had not tipped the probability scales enough in my favor. Therefore, I was given a 4 year ban. When I read that verdict, I was so angry. How could it all not be enough? What else could we have done? A 4 year ban is for athletes that intentionally dope. They said my explanation was possible yet they gave me the same ban of an athlete that intentionally dopes when there was no evidence that showed that I had.
Throughout this process, I have felt an immense lack of basic human respect. In my opinion, I feel that they do everything they can to take away from your most valuable resource as an athlete: time. In their eyes, you are guilty. End of story. For an organization that preaches for things to be done the right way, they do not. For an organization that stands on accountability, there is none for them. I believe that the system is more focused on banning athletes rather than figuring out and valuing the truth. I do not believe they are protecting clean athletes.
In the end, you don’t have to believe me. I get it. There have been so many athletes that have cheated, been caught and have recited, “I didn’t do it. I am innocent.” It’s frustrating that the weight of these words have been stolen by selfish and lying athletes, too cowardly to take accountability for their own actions while trying everything possible to get away with what they’ve done. It’s equally as unfair and frustrating that by believing me, you are then forced to question your trust in the anti-doping organizations that were put in place to protect you. But I do implore you to educate yourself, ask questions, and take another look at the organizations you are entrusting with your careers and your futures. I honestly wish it hadn’t taken me being personally affected by this in order to see what was happening and want to do something about it.

I believe in the system as it should be, not as it is. My hope in writing this is to invoke change so this doesn’t continue to happen to innocent athletes. But at the very least, I hope it might bring some awareness to the problem. I don’t believe I am the first innocent athlete that this has happened to and unless we change something, I unfortunately will not be the last.

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