The Olympic Games, Beijing 2008: Little Jamaica elates the sporting world when it wins eleven medals, all of them in sprint disciplines. It would become the story of the games – and perfect PR for the International Olympic Committee (IOC): The super-fast runners from the tiny island in the Caribbean; a legend that would leave its mark on the Olympic sports for years to come. And which now, nine years later, could be exposed as a baseless fairy tale.
Clenbuterol for Jamaican sprinters?
According to information from the ARD anti-doping editorial staff, in 2016 during the re-analysis for banned substances, clenbuterol was detected in several urine samples from the 2008 Jamaican Olympics team. And these also included samples from the Caribbean island’s male sprinters, according to the ARD research team. Clenbuterol is a highly effective substance, which is on the list of banned drugs. It became known through prominent doping cases, such as the sprinter Katrin Krabbe or the former Tour-de-France winner Alberto Contador. Several sources have now verified that the IOC was aware of the explosive findings from the Jamaicans – but declined to pursue them further and instead has stopped all of the investigations.
What is more: IOC Medical Director Richard Budgett, on whose orders the re-analysis was conducted, did give the doping control lab in Lausanne concerned advance instructions to test samples for any banned substances. But the Briton also forbid the lab staff from formally confirming any potential positive tests without prior consultations. And after positive results were found in the lab screenings of the Jamaican samples, Budgett then refused to let these findings be confirmed.
WADA even knew the cases
However, confirmation is necessary before proceedings can even be commenced against potentially doped athletes. Meaning that the practice conducted by the IOC in relation to the Jamaican samples was not in compliance with the binding standards set for doping analytics. "It’s hard to imagine that a prestigious internationally association would still do such a thing today, as it’s quite clearly against the rules," Detlef Thieme from the doping control lab in Kreischa said, without knowing the specific case. "Suspicious facts and circumstances always have to be confirmed."
And: Even the World Anti-Doping Agency knew of the situation. "I am aware of the fact that [in some] cases from Jamaica, some [...] very low levels of clenbuterol were found," the WADA Director General Olivier Niggli admitted frankly to the ARD’s anti-doping editorial staff in March. However, it could not be excluded that the banned substance entered the athletes’ bodies through the consumption of contaminated meat. Furthermore, according to Niggli, the clenbuterol levels were potentially so minimal that any proceedings against athletes would have little prospect of success. For which reason, WADA agreed to the IOC’s approach here not to pursue the positive tests further. Niggli did however acknowledge, "Of course this is not great. Because if you’re cheating, if you are a cheater, you have a perfect excuse [with contaminated meat] if you get caught. But that’s where we are."
Pound demands tracing
In response to inquiries by the ARD, the IOC too has now confirmed that the positive clenbuterol findings in 2008 were not disclosed. But there’s more: The IOC states that the re-analysis has revealed that in “a number of cases of athletes from a number of countries and from a number of different sports very low levels of clenbuterol” were detected in their urine. But, the Committee says, the athletes are innocent. The IOC, however, does not provide any proof of this assertion in its response.
The fact of the matter is: WADA has not set any predefined threshold for the clenbuterol substance; any finding, no matter how low the amount, is regarded as a conspicuous doping test, which has to result in further investigation, according to the anti-doping rules. "It seems highly unusual to me that the correct procedures were not followed in this case," said WADA’s first president, Richard Pound. The longtime sports functionary sees the focus placed especially on Jamacia. "Certainly Jamaica is known to have a problem. And it’s known to have astonishing success. Particularly in athletics in short distances. So therefore if you’re doing your job properly you should track down everything you possibly can. And do not leave any stone unturned."
Is contaminated meat the reason?
All that remains is the tip-off about potentially contaminated meat. In fact, warnings were issued prior to the Beijing Games about meat being contaminated with clenbuterol – at that time the substance was used in China as an animal fattening additive. For which reason the Olympic organisers already laid down the highest safety measures in advance, intended to strictly monitor the quality of the food consumed in the Olympic Village; with athletes even forbidden from bringing their own foodstuffs into it. And the World Health Organisation officially confirmed the efforts undertaken by the Olympic organisers here afterwards: When it came to food safety at the Olympic Games, the measures taken were successful.
With the result that until now only one other athlete was suspected of having taken clenbuterol in Beijing: the Polish canoeist Adam Seroczynski, in whom the steroid was already found a few days after he had competed in the 2008 Beijing Games. An IOC commission promptly banned him for two years for the doping offence, and this was confirmed by the international CAS Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2009. The statement provided by the Polish athlete that clenbuterol entered his body through contaminated meat was viewed as implausible by the IOC. So the question is: Do other rules apply to those athletes who have now attracted attention?
Jamaica in focus of doping
Moreover, especially the Jamaican delegation exercised extreme vigilance in 2008. Jamaica arranged for food from home to be shipped directly to the pre-Olympic training camp in China, where it was prepared by the team’s own cook. The probability that several athletes could become contaminated with clenbuterol under these circumstances would seem extremely low. Without referring to the specific case, the doping analyst Detlef Thieme commented, "If it’s enough to just accept the claim of contamination, then you might as well close down the whole field of doping analysis. You really do have to have additional information and evidence that confirms that a scenario like that is plausible."
In the specific case of Jamaica, this is compounded by the fact that other incriminating evidence of doping cases with Jamaican athletes has been found repeatedly in the past, resulting in their being banned. At the same time, there was no proper, functioning anti-doping control system in place on the Caribbean island in 2008. With Jamaica long suspected at that time of being a hub for doping dealers.
Witness Heredia confirms contact
Angel Heredia was one of the best-known dealers in the business. The Mexican supplied top athletes with banned substances – including the sprinters from the Caribbean. Then he quit dealing and became a key witness for America’s crime-fighting authorities. When he spoke to the ARD anti-doping editorial staff, Heredia recalled that in 2007 and 2008, in the period leading up to the Beijing Games, "There were plenty of questions from Jamaican coaches [contacting and] asking me [...] if clenbuterol was good for sprinting," Herdedia said. "They have asked me since very long, even years before that, they asked me how clenbuterol was good for sprinters and they were asking me questions how to use it. And whether it was good for sprinting, for recovering and all this stuff. Basically clenbuterol, [...] they used it a lot for recovery, for increasing their oxygen intake, you know, for anti-asthmatic properties." When asked how high he thought the probability was that Jamaican athletes used clenbuterol for doping purposes at the 2008 Beijing Games, he reckoned it to be, "a hundred percent. A hundred percent."
Indignation in Germany
German athletes are stunned by the alleged doping incidents. "If it all really did happen like it now seems it did, this is something I truly do not understand," Julian Reus, the German 100-metre record holder, said. "If a doping sample proves positive during re-analysis, then everything has to be done to clear up the facts and circumstances. And I’m deeply disappointed that it seems like the IOC and WADA are not fulfilling their duties here to the clean sportspeople."
Likewise Clemens Prokop, president of the German Athletics Federation, has a clear position, "A case like this causes terrible damage to the credibility of the IOC and WADA, who are really throwing away the fundamental trust in them here. The attitude and behaviour of the two organisations is absurd." In spite of their apparent "zero-tolerance policy" when it comes to doping, it seems that the IOC has no interest in clearing up the cases of clenbuterol in Beijing in accordance with the rules.
The Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association did not respond to enquiries made to them by ARD, nor did the Jamaica Olympic Association.