A Disheartening Experience

I will preface this post by saying that I am not pointing fingers at anyone. I am presenting an experience that I had yesterday / this morning, and you can formulate your own opinion on the matter. I feel that this is an experience that needs to be shared publicly, specifically so that my fellow pros know that this sort of thing can happen. Monday February 8th 2016 I had a knock at the door at 6:05am. It was the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) and they were ordered by WTC to conduct both a blood and urine test on me. They collected two purple vials of blood for the Blood Passport program. Everything went smoothly. The only slight hiccup was that the needle went through my vein and had to be backed out in order for the blood to start draining into the vial. The testers left my house at 6:55am.

Yesterday evening (Tuesday February 9th) I checked my account on ADAMS Whereabouts. If you are not familiar, this is the system the World Anti Doping Agency uses to keep tabs on athletes, as well as present to athletes the results of drug tests. The system had been updated saying that urine and blood tests had been conducted the previous day. Next to the urine test it said “no result” and next to the Blood Passport entry it said “Invalid”. I was very alarmed by this. Next to the five previous Blood Passport entries it said “Valid”. I then went to the “Biological Results” tab and looked at the results of the test.

The major thing that popped out at me was that my hematocrit was 39.9%. The last time I had blood drawn for the Passport program was on October 5th 2015, and on that day my hematocrit was 46.1%. My four other values previous to that, dating back to October 27th 2014 were: 43.6%, 45.9%, 45.7%, and 44%. To me it made perfect sense why my Blood Passport this time round was marked as “Invalid”; I had a 6.2% drop in my hematocrit. I was greatly alarmed by this as I was unsure what “Invalid” meant. Of course, I could only think the worst: That I was now under suspicion for doping because my hematocrit had suddenly had a large drop.

I immediately called my dad who works as a nurse in a dialysis unit, and understands all the words and concepts in the blood test. I told him my values and he said though my hematocrit is quite low, it is still within fairly normal levels. He asked me about my reticulocyte count (this is a count of immature red blood cells) and I told him in this test it was 0.8%, and in my previous test on October 5th it was 0.98%. He said that both of those values would be consider within normal limits. He asked if I had changed anything in my diet. I told him I had been cutting back on my meat consumption. He said it is possible that perhaps I was a bit low on iron, but that that would be strange because I had just had a great race in Panama a little over one week prior. He said the best way to find out would be to go have a blood test done that tested for iron levels. He also said that something was fishy about the blood test; that perhaps the “Invalid” marker meant something happened at the lab or during transport of the specimen that caused them to be unable to properly assess the sample. He reassured me that even if the sample was correct, my values were within normal acceptable limits, and that suspicion of doping would happen if the values had suddenly jumped in the opposite direction. The direction the values had jumped was not in a performance enhancing direction. This eased my mind and allowed me to get some sleep last night.

When I woke up this morning I viewed the results on ADAMS again. This time round I noticed that the Sample Collection Authority for the sample was Switzerland Antidoping. This was strange as I remembered it being CCES who took the samples. I then went and found the pink sheet they give you after the process is done, that contains your sample IDs and who the person is who took the samples. As I suspected, they were from CCES. I then noticed that the lab that analysed the sample was in Lausanne Switzerland. I thought that was really strange. Why would they send my blood all the way to Switzerland to be analysed? I have been tested by CCES several times in the past, so I viewed those lab results. The three previous times they sent my sample to a lab in Montreal. The final nail in the coffin was the Analysis Date and Time. My sample was received at 8:28 am on Monday February 8th- Switzerland time. At 8:28 am in Switzerland it is 2:28 am in Windsor Ontario. The drug testers didn’t arrive at my house until 6:05am! This meant it was impossible for the sample to be mine!

I found this to be rather disturbing. How is it possible that someone else’s Blood Passport results were posting on my ADAMS Whereabouts page? I immediately messaged WTC and in just a few minutes they agreed that an error had been made. The sample was removed from my Biological Results page, and my Blood Passport was returned to “No Result”.

In the end, I’m still not quite sure how this error happened. The sample had the same “Sample Code Number” as mine. In my mind, the only possibility is that there was a manufacturing duplication i.e. two vial kits were manufactured with the same code; or the person in Switzerland wrote the wrong number down as their “Sample Code Number”. Whatever the case, I found this to be a bit alarming.

Fortunately, the person whose sample showed up on my Whereabouts was not doping. Their values were quite low for a man, but would be completely normal for a woman, so it is very likely that the sample came from a woman. But what if the person was doping? The issue was resolved seamlessly, but it doesn’t change the fact that even for a brief period, I could have had those sorts of accusations on my record. This is my career and livelihood on the line here. I find the fact that this error can be made to be a bit disheartening.

My advice to my fellow pros (and to some AGers who are being tested now as well) is this:

  1. Check thoroughly that the numbers on your urine and blood samples match the numbers on your forms exactly. Admittedly, in the past, I have just glanced to make sure the two match, without giving it much thought. I never thought in a million years this sort of discrepancy could occur.
  2. Keep your pink sheets indefinitely. I was able to reference my pink sheets and this allowed me to determine that the sample listed on my Whereabouts was not mine. Admittedly, I have thrown out many of my pink sheets; it never occurring to me that this sort of discrepancy could occur.

It is your name, future and career on the line, and it is obvious that the system has some areas that could be improved. Imagine the panic attack the woman in Switzerland would have had if the same thing happened to her, but with my Blood Passport results. Her hematocrit would have jumped 6.2% to 46.1% (which is consider to be outside of normal hematocrit levels for a woman according to Google). It is very likely that that would have raised some red flags on her end, and a lot more anxiety in her head.