EUGENE, Oregon – After an eight-hour whirlwind that caused immense confusion in the athletics world, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee confirmed Thursday night that Shelby Houlihan – a long-distance runner who imputed a test drug-positive for contaminated meat in a burrito she ate – won’t be allowed to compete in the U.S. Olympic trials on Friday, and will therefore miss the Games.
Until Thursday morning, it didn’t even seem like she had a chance to compete. Houlihan, who holds the US 1,500-meter record, announced Monday that she had been banned from competing for four years after a drug test in December tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone.
She said about 10 hours before the test, she ate from a food truck that served pork offal, the internal parts of a pig, which some studies have shown contained nandrolone. But confusedly, Houlihan’s lawyer said she actually ordered a carne asada burrito (which has beef in it) and didn’t know how the pork offal might have made its way into the tortilla. with the other ingredients. Lawyer Paul J. Greene did not respond to an email requesting comment Thursday night.
After the positive test, Houlihan and the Athletic Integrity Unit, a drug testing agency founded by World Athletics, the international governing body of athletics, agreed to a fast-track process in which the Court of Arbitration for Sport decided heard his case. The Switzerland-based court upheld Houlihan’s four-year suspension, and she was apparently absent from the upcoming Olympics and the 2024 Games in Paris.
But USA Track & Field, the sport’s national governing body and organizer of the country’s Olympic trials, unexpectedly announced Thursday morning that Houlihan would be cleared to compete.
“Since there is an active appeal process, the USATF will allow all athletes to continue competing until the process is complete,” the organization said. said in a press release.
Confusion immediately follows.
The decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport is final and the only body Houlihan could appeal to is the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, and it is not clear whether it did so.
It also seems established that World Athletics and World Anti-Doping Agency rules would not allow Houlihan to run, and throughout Thursday various national and international bodies condemned USA Track & Field’s initial decision to authorize him to participate in the tests.
“All member federations must abide by the decisions of the CAS,” a spokesperson for World Athletics said in a statement, adding that the organization was addressing USA Track & Field.
The Athletics Integrity Unit said it wrote to USA Track & Field to clarify that Houlihan’s participation in “any competition or activity authorized or organized by a World Athletics member federation, such as the USATF (i.e. US Olympic Team Trials – Track and Field) is strictly prohibited.
A spokesperson for the United States Anti-Doping Agency, who is not even formally involved in Houlihan’s case, said: “Under the rules, she is not allowed to compete. It would be illegal for her to do so, unless a court decides otherwise. “
The national governing body has even been criticized by more than 30 prominent runners, including Des Linden and Molly Seidel, who said in an open letter that the organization’s decision “sets a very disturbing precedent for our sport”.
Still, Houlihan was listed on Thursday as a competitor in the 1,500 and 5,000-meter races – both scheduled for the preliminary rounds on Friday – before the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee finally intervened.
If this had allowed Houlihan to compete, USA Track & Field would have risked the sanction of several organizations. Late Thursday evening Sarah Hirshland, Executive Director of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said the organization and USA Track & Field “can confirm that we will abide by the WADA Code and all CAS decisions that govern the participation of athletes at sanctioned events “.
It’s still unclear why USA Track & Field believed Houlihan was still eligible to compete, and a spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. But barring another unforeseen event, the nearest Houlihan will be able to attend the first rounds of the races in which she hoped to participate from the stands.
Alanis Thames contributed reporting from Orlando, Florida.