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ITU Opens Investigation into Alleged Failed Drug Test by Olympic Bronze Medalist

Russian website Sputnik reports Henri Schoeman tested positive for prednisone at Rio 2016.

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Russian website Sputnik reports Henri Schoeman tested positive for prednisone at Rio 2016.

The International Triathlon Union (ITU) has opened an investigation into allegations that Olympic triathlon bronze medalist Henri Schoeman failed a drug test at the 2016 Games in Rio. The investigation stems from an article published on Wednesday by Sputnik, a government-controlled news agency in Russia.

“ITU has been informed of allegations involving Henri Schoeman and an adverse analytical finding that would have occurred during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games,” the ITU said in a statement Thursday. “ITU has promptly launched an investigation into the matter. ITU has been in touch with the athlete, who is fully cooperating.”

The article claims that Sputnik acquired leaked International Olympic Committee (IOC) emails from Fancy Bears, a hacking group with ties to the Russian government that has previously leaked IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) documents and emails implicating non-Russian athletes and officials. The alleged chain of correspondence between an IOC staffer and medical director claim a positive test for prednisone, which Schoeman did declare he was taking on his Doping Control Form (DCF) in Rio. Prednisone is commonly used to treat chest infections, but it’s banned by WADA without a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). It was well reported at the time of the race that Schoeman had been dealing with a chest infection in Rio.

Henri Schoeman used a 31:50 10K split to run his way to the bronze medal. Photo: Delly Carr/Triathlon.org

It’s unclear whether or not the South African Olympic Committee obtained a TUE for Schoeman before the race, or if they applied for one retroactively after the Games, which would be permitted with sufficient medical records to justify the treatment. If a TUE were granted either before or after the failed test, it would explain why the IOC did not issue an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF). The alleged leaked e-mails show that IOC staffers repeatedly said it would “look bad” if they waited too long after the failed test to issue an AAF.

Prednisone is a common drug used to treat mild to severe colds and infections. Schoeman talked at length after the race about his illness in the days leading to the event and noted that he wasn’t given the OK to race by his doctors until the night before. A study published by the National Institute of Health in 2007 demonstrated that time to exhaustion among cyclists “significantly increased” with oral prednisone use. It is banned in-competition by WADA without a TUE when administered orally or intravenously. It can also be administered to the skin to treat rashes, which does not require a TUE.

The now 26-year-old Schoeman finished third behind Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee in Rio, marking the first time that South Africa has medaled in triathlon. He did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Update: The ITU has completed its investigation and concluded that no anti-doping rules were broken. They released the following statement.

Following the investigation opened by ITU and the IOC over the publication on some media outlets of allegations involving Henri Schoeman and an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) that would have occurred during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, all parties involved want to declare that the case was not considered to be any Anti-Doping rule violation.
 
The result management went in accordance with the WADA rules and the process concluded that no AAF was recorded. As a result, the case was not considered to be, nor did it result in, an Anti-Doping Rule violation.
 
ITU wants to acknowledge and thank Mr. Henri Schoeman, who has been fully cooperative, providing any information to both the IOC and to ITU during this investigation process, since the information was publicly disclosed.
 
ITU President, Marisol Casado, said: “We feel extremely satisfied that this investigation is completely closed and clears the name of an athlete who has been cooperative, supportive and always assisted ITU and the IOC to clarify these circumstances, even under a lot of pressure. The professionalism and openness shown by Henri Schoeman should be an example for any athlete that could face a situation like this. In ITU we strongly believe in clean sport, because that’s what makes our sport, and our athletes, great.”
 
ITU Anti-Doping Director, Leslie Buchanan, said: “Every year, ITU commits its time, effort, energy and a substantial budget to our anti-doping mission, and we will continue to do so. Our organization is absolutely committed to eradicating the use of prohibited substances and methods in triathlon, but ITU is also fully committed to protecting our athletes in instances such as this.”
 
The IOC is investigating the circumstances in which the information about Henri Schoeman was publicly disclosed and is taking steps to protect athletes’ confidential information. The IOC strongly condemns and will prosecute any unlawful attempts to disclose any confidential information.

Schoeman also released a statement:

A recent article published by Sputnik alleged that I failed a Doping Test conducted after my race in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

In light of an investigation launched immediately after these rumours surfaced, I chose simply to cooperate and refrained from airing my opinion or sharing any details on the allegations until all thee facts had been independently studied and confirmed.

After thorough investigation by the IOC, WADA and ITU, I have received a letter confirming what I have known all along.

There has never been a positive result, an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) or a necessity for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE).

I have never failed a drug test in my sporting career nor have I ever had to apply for a TUE.

I work extremely hard at what I do, it is not always easy but Triathlon is my passion and I enjoy it.

I have the utmost respect for my competitors and my values and integrity would never allow me to abuse any substance to gain an advantage.

There have been many hurtful comments and judgements passed on my character in the past week, yet I count myself fortunate to have the support and encouragement of my family, friends and fans.

I am happy to put this behind me and will continue to put in the hard work and focus on my preparation for the Commonwealth Games in April as well as the 2018 WTS season.