Q&A with Shelby Houlihan Defender Twoggle

In reaching out to the winners of our $200,023 Worlds Prediction Contest so we could get them their great Suunto GPS Watches we discovered that twoggle was the overall winner of the contest.

Twoggle on LetsRun.com is most known for his lengthy blog post on github titled, “Houlihan, Burrito-Gate and the Problems of Sports Drug Testing” and for posting questions and thoughts about the case on LetsRun.com’s forums.

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In reaching out to twoggle and learning his real name (which we are keeping anonymous) we used this opportunity to ask him about the case two years after his blog post.

Twoggle says he lives in the Mountain West, went to high school in the 1970s, and is somewhat of a digital nomad as he has “done a little bit of seemingly everything over the last adventurous 45 years, including medical/health research (and working with other researchers), computer programming, traveling and learning, working odd jobs.”

LetsRun.com: Why did you get involved with the case and what are your thoughts now?

Twoggle: Currently, I feel mostly the same way as I felt when I wrote the editorial (https://twoggle.github.io/DopingFiles/Article.html).

If you want more details about my updated thoughts and why I got involved, I listed them below:

  1. As I said in the editorial, I still do not know if Houlihan deliberately took a nandrolone supplement or got it through a contaminated supplement or contaminated over the counter drug or contaminated meat, or pork (boar) or some other source. I’ve had some suspicions since early on in the case, but I don’t write about those.
  2. Research was published showing more potential false positives with boar ingestion. Also, there is testing showing nandrolone-contaminated meat is common in some countries in Europe, but no one knows how common in the U.S.
  3. I read of a case in Europe of nandrolone and potential boar ingestion that was treated as Houlihan’s team requested by the testing agency.
  4. I still feel that outside the sports drug testing world, no one who was proven to provide false testimony would ever get away with being an expert witness let alone still running a drug testing lab.
  5. The method of nandrolone detection has completely changed several times in the last 20 years — which is expected. However, at each change WADA experts are sure they got it right this time.
  6. I believe that WADA is catching and “convicting” drug cheats and some percentage of innocent athletes. The innocent athletes are “caught” due to poor science, not being able to identify contaminated sources or simply not being wealthy enough to afford the huge costs for proving themselves innocent. These athletes have their careers and reputations ruined. If Lawson’s attorney hadn’t gotten a subpoena to prove inaccurate testimony, he’d be considered a drug cheat. If Peter Bol’s team hadn’t shown improper interpretation of the somewhat subjective EPO test, he’d be a “drug cheat.” If Ajee Wilson hadn’t tracked down the contamination source from the restaurant, she’d be in the same situation as Houlihan.

What would the world look like if the mere accusation of a crime (by the “authorities,” media or individuals) meant you were guilty until proven innocent? I don’t have all the answers for drug testing as it is somewhat different than criminal cases, but I prefer not to go too far down the road of “accusation = guilty unless proven innocent.”

As to why I got involved. I focus most of my research and online or offline writing on health and medical issues. But if I see or perceive an injustice or danger, I’m not afraid to speak up, especially if it involves something I’m interested in.

LRC: When you say you had suspicions early on do you mean of Houlihan being dirty?

Twoggle: Shelby being dirty was not my top suspicion (intuitive idea), but it is obviously a consideration. Every time I considered whether she deliberately took a nandrolone-related supplement the night before the drug test, I had to ask myself: 1) why she didn’t move the testing window to later the next night after which the nandrolone metabolites would be gone; 2) why she didn’t take a whereabouts failure; or 3) why she didn’t take birth control drugs at the same time (as spelled out in the WADA Technical Document) that make nandrolone test results much more ambiguous. I don’t assume innocence based on these items (or her non-super shoe use), but unless she’s a somewhat incompetent doper, it makes me consider alternatives as well.

I’m sure Houlihan’s team brainstormed possibilities from exceedingly unlikely to more likely. I took a few minutes to do the same and came up with a list of the absurd to more common. One of the items in the list below is what my intuition was telling me, but I could be wrong (obviously):

  1. Contaminated supplement (not all of her supplement batches could be tested)
  2. Contaminated meat (nandrolone found in a surprisingly high percentage of meat tested in Europe)
  3. Contaminated batch of OTC drugs or personal care products (could be found in drugs, eye drops, creams — anywhere that the lab might use nandrolone or precursor for other products)
  4. Sabotage
  5. Tatoo carrier chemicals (Unregulated ingredients. Small amounts of nandrolone or nandrolone precursor could be in a batch).
  6. Deliberately took nandrolone
  7. Boar meat
  8. Lab equipment and/or software errors
  9. Combination of her somewhat unique medical conditions/treatments (Hereditary spherocytosis & cholecystectomy & splenectomy) in combination with other unknown factors.

All of the items above except 5 & 9 have happened in either real world drug testing or in research. I’m not saying all are likely, just part of the brainstorming process. Wish I could have interviewed her and seen the full lab results, but most likely wouldn’t have caught anything her team didn’t consider.

For more on the winners of our prediction contest click here.

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