Looking more skeptically at events outside of elite and Olympic circles, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has suspended nine masters athletes for positive tests so far in 2011. That accounts for more than one-third of the 25 sanctions the agency has announced this year. Among the masters to test positive was one competitor in his 50s and three in their 60s.
The agency wants to cut down on what it says is an increasing number of older-age cheaters, an effort critics decry as petty and a waste of money for a cause that is already operating on limited resources. But cheating needs to be stopped throughout sports, the head of USADA says.
“We get calls from athletes about doping that’s happening in their sports at all levels,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. “We’ve also had event organizers call us and express their concerns and their desire to put in a good anti-doping program.”
USA Track and Field, for instance, requested a USADA presence at its masters national championships this summer after international organizers told the American track organization it would stop accepting U.S. records if it didn’t ramp up its anti-doping program.
Testing at nationals resulted in three suspensions, all from people who either disputed their test or said they got tripped up by a tainted supplement.
Craig Shumaker, 63, admitted to taking a doctor-prescribed testosterone gel that he knew would trigger a positive test if he was selected. He was, and received a two-year suspension, which carries the customary contingency that he must submit to more tests when he’s reinstated. His win at nationals in shot put and second-place finish in discus have been erased, though Shumaker insists the drug gave him no benefit.
He said he has no intention of going off the drug, commonly prescribed for people diagnosed with low testosterone, and said the positive test pretty much marks the end of his days as a competitive thrower.
Gary Snyder, the chair of the masters track and field competitions at USATF, said his staff “did a fair amount of soul searching before implementing this nationally.”
They decided to go ahead with it because they felt it was good for the sport.
Cyclists accounted for the other positive tests, in part because USA Cycling chose to increase its testing numbers in non-elite events, asking USADA to go to national championships, a number of state championships and a few odd regional and local races, “based on tips we got,” said USA Cycling CEO Steve Johnson.
“I’m ecstatic about it, frankly,” Johnson said. “It’s not as though doping just became an issue in masters cycling. It’s been going on at this level for some time. If you don’t look, you’ll never find a problem.”
Tygart conceded that spending money on masters events does put a strain on budgets, but he believes it’s a worthwhile effort. He says the positive results at masters events “feeds into our belief that, unchecked, in a win-at-all-costs culture, some athletes and parents will do whatever it takes to win.”