The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), an independent organization that combats doping in the sports of athletics, has banned Olympic runner Shelby Houlihan from the sport for four years following a positive test for an anabolic steroid called nandrolone. Houlihan, however, believes it’s a false positive from a burrito she ate hours before the test.
In a lengthy Instagram post on Monday, Houlihan, 28, revealed that she received an email from the AIU last January 14th, informing her that a drug test she took on December 15th, 2020, returned positive for nandrolone.
“When I got that email, I had to read it over about ten times and google what it was that I had just tested positive for. I had never even heard of nandrolone,” wrote Houlihan. “I have since learned that it has long been understood by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) that eating pork can lead to a false positive for nandrolone since certain types of pigs produce it naturally in high amounts. Pig organ meat (offal) has the highest levels of nandrolone.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, nandrolone is a synthetic, anabolic steroid analog of testosterone. It can be used for testosterone replacement therapy to increase nitrogen retention and fat-free muscle mass.
Five days after being notified of her suspension, Houlihan put together a food log of everything she consumed the week of her December 15th test. “We concluded that the most likely explanation was a burrito purchased and consumed approximately 10 hours before that drug test from an authentic Mexican food truck that serves pig offal near my house in Beaverton, Oregon,”
Houlihan informed the AIU about this, but her explanation of the positive test was not accepted by the Court of Arbitration. This prompted her four-year ban from the sport, which prevents her from competing in the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials and the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Houlihan even passed a polygraph test and had her hair sampled by one of the world’s foremost toxicologists just to prove her innocence. Though WADA agreed that the latter test proved that there was no buildup of nandrolone in her body, which there would have been if she was taking it regularly, the AIU didn’t change its initial decision. “Instead, they simply concluded that I was a cheater and that a steroid was ingested orally, but not regularly,” wrote Houlihan.
In a statement on Monday, Houlihan’s coach Jerry Schumacher said that the AIU and WADA are treating her “unfairly,” and preventing her from competing in the Olympics despite knowing about the issue with pork and nandrolone.
AIU, on the other hand, told CNN that it “applies the World Anti-Doping Code equally to athletes from all over the world.” The AIU pointed out that Houlihan’s case “was heard by a three-member panel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which made its decision after hearing evidence and arguments from the athlete’s lawyers and the AIU.”
Houlihan ended his Instagram post stressing her innocence. “I want to be very clear. I have never taken any performance-enhancing substances. And that includes that of which I am being accused,” wrote Houlihan. “I believe in the sport and pushing your body to the limit just to see where the limit is. I’m not interested in cheating. I don’t do this for the accolades, money, or for people to know my name. I do this because I love it. I have so much fun doing it and it’s always the best part of my day.”