Suddenly we have two — two — top athletes out of this week's U.S. swimming national championships. For doping-related reasons.
What will Lilly King say?
Ryan Lochte got himself suspended Monday, again, this time for 14 months, and every time one thinks the Ryan Lochte story has taken a weird-enough twist it just gets weirder.
And then there is Madisyn Cox, who is out for two years and whose case bears remarkable similarities to that of the Russian Yulia Efimova. That's right. The same Efimova who King decided to make the villain in a Cold War-style doping drama that far too many people lapped up as if it was a 21st=century Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago.
Imagine the glee this week at the news out of the United States swim scene. Just imagine the Russian media. Two Americans! This is where, again, it's useful to remember that as an American athlete on the world stage a healthy dose of humility goes a long way.
Reminder: you don't see Katie Ledecky, ever, calling anyone out.
And why is that?
What goes around comes around, and this reminder of what King had to say in Rio, referring to Efimova, "You've been caught for drug cheating, I'm just not a fan," adding that doping "was on all of our minds. We had team meetings talking about what it was going to be like. We were going to be racing dopers, and we all knew it."
Did that feel good?
How does it feel now?
All of you who were so gung-ho, U-S-A, the red-white-and-blue does it the right way when Lilly King was so quick to run her mouth, what say you now?
Is Lochte a "doper"? On Monday, Lochte accepted a 14-month sanction from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for getting an intravenous injection in May. What does that make him? If you say "dumb" — he has spent years cultivating a public persona — that avoids the question.
Lochte got caught by a photo he posted on his own Instagram account. Unbelievable.
If you don't think there's glee, you picked a bad week to stop taking vitamin IVs like the kind you get for hangovers. Or, in Lochte's case, because your wife and son were ill and had recently visited hospitals and you didn't want to get sick, too.
A sampling of Monday's Lochte-related tweets: "There should be an extra-special doping suspension for athletes who are this stupid about their cheating." Note: '... cheating." Another: "How does he remember not to breathe underwater." This: "If there were 5 Gronks that formed into a Voltron Gronk, Ryan Lochte would be the sketchy hydro-based one that periodically does something thoughtless that gets all the other Gronks into trouble."
There's more: 'Lochte, in busting himself, has caught more elites than UKAD," the British anti-doping agency, "have in ten years." And: "Ryan Lochte gets himself suspended with the most Ryan Lochte move of all time." And: "I have defended Ryan Lochte my whole swimming life, but literally posting yourself breaking the rules on instagram and catching a 14 month ban is peak Lochte."
Because Lochte can't swim this week at the nationals in Irvine, California, which serves as a selection meet, he will also be ineligible for the Pan Pacific championships later this year and next year's world championships in South Korea.
He said, "This is devastating."
For emphasis: Lochte did not take a banned substance. To reiterate: he received a vitamin infusion in that IV. Since it exceeded 100 milliliters, no matter the substance, that broke the anti-doping rules.
This 14-month ban follows the 10-month suspension he served for his infamous drunken behavior at the Rio Olympics.
Social Media 101 reminder: Hey, everyone! Not everything you do needs to be out there for everyone to see, and in particular USADA.
"I should know better," he said.
Will Lochte make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team? He'd turn 36 during the Tokyo Games.
Again, the relevant question: is Ryan Lochte a "doper"? He's going to sit out for 14 months because he broke the anti-doping rules.
Now: is Madisyn Cox a "doper"? Absent a successful appeal, she's going to sit out for two years.
Cox is 23. She swam in college at Texas, graduating in 2017. Last summer in Budapest, she won her first long-course international medals, bronze in the 200-meter individual medley, gold with the U.S. women’s 800 freestyle relay.
Last week, a three-member FINA tribunal handed out the sanction. Cox tested positive for a heart medication, a stimulant called trimetazidine, in an out-of-competition sample provided Feb. 5 in Austin, Texas.
This substance is also called TMZ. Insert your own Lochte and "Dancing with the Stars" joke here. Or never mind.
TMZ is a well-known stimulant in Olympic swim circles. In 2014, it earned Chinese Olympic and world championships star Sun Yang a three-month suspension. Sun has consistently maintained that he took it for a heart condition and did not know it had become impermissible a few months before, when WADA added it to the banned list.
At the time, WADA prohibiting TMZ only for in-competition use. The next year, WADA reclassifified it as what’s called a “metabolic modulator, making TMZ not OK both in- and out-of-competition.
The amount of TMZ in Cox’s system was super-small, microscopic really. She said in a statement she had “never heard of this substance” before being told she had tested positive. She also said, “At such a trace level, the substance provided me with no performance benefit of any kind.”
Cox’s explanation: “a scientific expert who reviewed my case believes that I unknowingly ingested the trimetazidine through tap water consumed the night before the test. …”
The University of Texas runs an excellent swim program. Has anyone else there — ever — tested positive because of the local tap water?
These, according to the FINA panel’s opinion, were suggestions from Cox and her lawyer about ways TMZ might — stress, might — have gotten into the Austin tap water:
“… proximity to Mexico (where the drug is approved), that [Austin] is a sanctuary city, locals can obtain Trimetazidine over the internet and travelers from nations where the drug is approved can and do come often to Austin to visit.”
Proximity to Mexico?! Uh-oh. Sanctuary city?! Uh-oh, again. Travelers from other nations?! Uh-oh times three.
Blaming foreigners for the water that American swim medalists are drinking? In President Donald J. Trump’s America?
But we digress.
This, meanwhile, was evidence that was missing, per the panel, and logically enough:
1. The stuff is not FDA approved, so it’s not prescribed I the United States, which means it’s not in wide use, which diminishes the chance it could show up in a water supply; 2. no Austin water-test data was available; 3. the panel heard no ‘local conditions’ evidence for contamination risks such as geology, hydrology, filtration systems, chemicals used or filtering procedures.
Thus, for the suggestion TMZ was in the tap water, the panel said, “All of this is speculative and remains unknown.”
In her statement, published on the site SwimSwam, Cox said, “Since my test result, I have learned the hard way about the harshness of the anti-doping rules. Because a microscopic amount of a prohibited substance was detected in my urine, I am sanctioned for two years despite the FINA Hearing Panel finding that my ingestion was unintentional and that I am not a ‘cheat.’ “
She also said: “I am devastated. I honestly believed through this entire process that I would receive a No Fault ruling, due to the strength of my case, a completely clean hair sample, dozens and dozens of clean tests and a history of carrying myself with honor and integrity throughout my academic and swimming career. I stand on my personal and competitive reputation.”
The panel opened its summary this way:
“Ms. Cox is an honest, very hardworking and highly credible athlete who is not a ‘cheat.’ She is, unfortunately, caught in a dilemma. The Panel believes her testimony and that of her mother. The case Ms. Cox presented was highly credible. Due to the credible nature of her testimony, her moral character, the very low level of the drug detected, plus the evidence received from other witnesses, the Panel is prepared to take the highly unusual step of accepting that Ms. Cox did not act with intention in the absence of proof regarding the source of the Trimetazidine that came into her body … this conclusion reduces the presumptive sanction from 4 years to 2.”
Back to Efimova, winner of three Olympic silver medals (two silvers in 2016, one bronze in 2012) and five gold world championship medals (six silver, three bronze as well), one of those golds in the 200 breaststroke last summer in Budapest.
Efimova served a 16-month ban after a positive test in 2013 for DHEA. Math: 16 months is less than two years, which is what Cox is looking at.
Efimova also tested positive in early 2016 for meldonium, the Latvian heart substance, but in that instance was totally cleared of any misconduct, FINA going so far as to issue a statement saying that in the meldonium matter there was “no fault or negligence” at issue (the sort of ruling Cox was hoping for, obviously).
As for the 2013 case:
Efimova was training in Southern California. She bought a supplement, Cellulor CLK, at a GNC store. Not smart for an elite athlete, compounded by the fact that, in addition, she relied on the sales clerk for advice, her English was “self-taught,” the Russian swim federation had never provided “specific anti-doping education” and, as a consequence, she didn’t read the label.
Efimova was tested at least 13 times in 2013. She came up positive once.
The tribunal “accepts that Ms. Efimova did not intend to use [the supplement] in order to enhance her sport performance.” Rather, she was “naive and insufficiently cautious,” the panel also taking note of her “relatively young age,” 21 at the time.
It added that she “impressed the [tribunal] as sincere and honest and appropriately remorseful for her mistake. She did not seek to blame others for her rule violation and she accepted responsibility for her actions and her duties under the rules. Her explanations were logical and fit well with, and were corroborated by, the test results and other documentary evidence in the case. Consequently, the [panel] found Ms. Efimova's testimony to be credible and persuasive.”
One of the three members of Efimova’s panel was Bill Bock. He is general counsel of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
In Rio, King made headlines for wagging her finger at Efimova. And for saying, “I’m not the sweet little girl.” And, “I did it clean.” Efimova burst into tears after a dramatic 100 breaststroke that saw King win gold, Efimova silver.
In 2017 in Budapest, Efimova said, “Of course, I remember the Olympics. It was the worst thing ever.”
In Rio once more, King said she believes any athlete with a doping offense should not be allowed to compete. That’s all well and good, but it’s a matter of law in the United States — the Amateur Sports Act says so — that if you’re eligible to compete, meaning not under a ban, regardless what may have happened in the past, you’re good to go. USA Swimming maybe ought to remind everyone on the U.S. team about, oh, the law.
Jessica Hardy came back to the U.S. team after a positive test in 2008 for a tainted supplement, winning gold and bronze medals in the relays at the 2012 Games, and presumably Madisyn Cox will come back, too. Ryan Lochte says that's his plan.
How about if, from now on, we all take a lesson from Katie Ledecky? Let the swimming do the talking, In our world, right now, as Americans, it's better that way.