Abortion, missed drug test, altered records mean trouble

Brianna McNeal, the 2016 Olympic 100-meter hurdles champion who qualified last month for her second U.S. Olympic team, never thought she would talk to anyone other than her husband and her spiritual advisor. abortion she had in January 2020. Certainly not World Athletics, the world governing body for athletics. Certainly not the public.

When interviewed after qualifying by placing second in the Olympic Trials final, McNeal said cryptically, “I want to cry right now. You don’t understand how far I’ve been through this year. I’m just very emotional. “

But in two interviews this week, McNeal offered her first public explanation, saying she felt compelled to disclose personal information in order to fight a doping ban and clear her name.

Last month McNeal, 29, was suspended for five years for “tampering with the results management process” because she failed a doping test two days after her abortion. McNeal said she was in bed recovering from the procedure and did not hear the anti-doping officer arrive at the front door of her home in Northridge, California.

In a decision released on Friday, the Swiss Court of Arbitration for Sport confirmed his five-year suspension, which means McNeal will not have the chance to defend his Olympic title and will miss the next two Summer Games. The court said it would make a detailed ruling later. This also added another penalty to her ban: McNeal is now disqualified from all events from February 13, 2020 to August 14, 2020 and is expected to forfeit all medals, prizes and cash earned during that time.

Gabbi Cunningham, who finished fourth in the 100m hurdles at the US practice, will replace McNeal in Tokyo.

“Right now I feel excommunicated from the sport itself and stigmatized, and to me that’s unfair,” McNeal said on a video call before his appeal was dismissed. “I just don’t believe that warranted a suspension at all, let alone a five-year suspension, for a simple technicality, an honest mistake during a very emotional time.”

Regarding the sport’s anti-doping authorities, she added: “They say they protect athletes who are clean, but I don’t feel protected at all. I just feel like I’m being judged for this very big one. decision I made that really affected my life. “

World Athletics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The five-year suspension follows a one-year ban McNeal received four years ago for missing three tests in a 12-month period. In this case, she said she twice forgot to update her whereabouts in the system that tracks athletes for random testing. On a third occasion, she said, she made a mistake entering the time she would be available.

McNeal said she is showing up to discuss abortion now because she wanted people to know that the current suspension involved nothing like tampering with a urine sample. She said she “doesn’t dope and will never dope.

McNeal’s case highlights the question of how far anti-doping authorities are going – or should go – to catch athletes who use banned drugs, while protecting the rights of clean athletes.

The anti-doping rulebook is getting thicker and more nuanced, making it more difficult for clean athletes to follow all the rules. Drug testing technology has become more sensitive, which means that small traces of banned drugs – perhaps ingested while consuming contaminated food – appear in the results. Yet athletes and their masters continue to offer wacky excuses for missing or failing drug tests, making it difficult for anti-doping authorities to relax any part of their quest to keep the sport clean.

Russian high jumper Danil Lysenko’s excuse for missing tests, for example, was that he was undergoing medical tests at a hospital when the drug tester was looking for him. In the end, the names of the doctors on the documents submitted in his defense turned out to be false and the hospital itself did not exist. Other cases, however, are complicated and anti-doping officials must decide how strictly they will enforce the rules, if it comes to catching athletes who are intentionally cheating.

“No one wants a paperwork violation or other mistake to stop a clean athlete from achieving their dreams,” said Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, adding that he was not. involved in the McNeal case and that he had not seen the detailed documentation of it.

In recent years, some anti-doping authorities have shown that they will be looking for even a tiny bit of wrongdoing, even if the violation does not prove that the athlete is doping. Fairness is questionable, especially when an athlete has made what is clearly a mistake.

McNeal has not been charged with doping. Several flaws in the documentation she submitted to prove that she had an abortion are the reason for her ban.

On January 12, 2020, a drug tester knocked on McNeal’s door but got no response. No one answered his phone either. Eighteen days later, the Athletics Integrity Unit, which investigates doping in athletics, asked McNeal for an explanation. She didn’t have to answer. She had only missed one Test in a 12-month period, and it takes three to trigger an anti-doping rule violation.

McNeal said in interviews this week that she wanted to be transparent with investigators, so she explained that she had undergone “a surprise medical procedure” that left her on treatment and in bed. Wishing to protect her privacy, she did not give further details. But she asked for a doctor’s note at the abortion clinic confirming an unidentified medical procedure.

When the note arrived about a month after the abortion, McNeal said, she mistakenly assumed the clinic had the wrong date for the procedure. She therefore changed the date from January 10, 2020, two days before her failed drug test, to January 11.

The Athletics Integrity Unit noticed the change and requested additional documentation. McNeal submitted two more notes from the same doctor, changing the date on both. Investigators saw this and asked for his medical records at the clinic. McNeal sent the documents to prove she was not lying about the proceedings. Investigators then found that the date of the surgery was in fact January 10 and that she had ended a pregnancy.

“I tried to keep the abortion private, but they kept shooting at me, wanting more information,” McNeal said. “I couldn’t believe I had been charged with a violation because I had confused the dates for only 24 hours. It’s not as if the procedure hadn’t taken place. “

World Athletics argued in a disciplinary hearing that McNeal should have known not to change the scores without confirming the date of the proceeding with the clinic.

In its case against her, McNeal said, World Athletics said he didn’t think she was so traumatized by the abortion that she was wrong about the date for the procedure. After all, the organization said, she continued to post on social media and compete in the weeks that followed.

McNeal said investigators berated her for seeing a spiritual counselor instead of a psychiatrist while suffering from post-abortion depression.

“I said to them, ‘Oh, really? For me growing up in the black community is how we deal with everything – we go to church and we talk to our pastor or spiritual advisor, ”she said. “I just feel like they weren’t compassionate at all.”

McNeal said that as a Christian she felt guilty about the abortion she suffered in order to compete in the 2020 Games. She said she was even more crushed when the games were postponed to 2021 , because the delay meant she could have had the baby after all.

McNeal had been so shaken and confused by the abortion, she said it hadn’t occurred to her that changing the date would be a bad thing.

Howard Jacobs, one of his attorneys, was surprised that the Athletics Integrity Unit brought a forgery action against McNeal when it could have easily backed down due to the sensitivity of the circumstances. He said the athletics federation has been more aggressive than any other federation in pursuing such cases.

“The question is how far do you go and how much is reasonable,” Jacobs said. “This case left a really bad taste in my mouth because they didn’t have to go ahead. I really have a hard time with that. “

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