After Drug Probe, U.S. Bobsledder Back on Course
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 4, 1998; Page C1
NAGANO, Feb. 3 A disputed drug test almost kept top U.S. bobsled driver Brian Shimer out of the Olympic Games, but a furious effort by Shimer and the U.S. bobsled federation to prove his innocence helped stave off a suspension.
Until late January, Shimer was the target of an investigation for possible illegal doping after a Nov. 7 urine sample and three successive samples showed his ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone to be in excess of accepted levels.
Shimer and the U.S. federation scrambled to demonstrate to the International Federation of Bobsleigh and Tobogganing (FIBT) that Shimer has an unusual body chemistry that led to abnormal results.
Shimer's quiet fight to prove he was drug free, which was put to rest officially this week, provides more fuel for a growing controversy over the current means of testing for excessive testosterone the "T/E test." International Olympic Committee officials said this week they hope the T/E test soon will be replaced by a better test, which will be studied here this month.
The near-miss for Shimer, 35, also comes with the Olympic world abuzz about the five Chinese athletes suspended for drug violations during January's world swimming championships in Australia. The past month has been a sensitive period for international and national sports federations, which have been under scrutiny on the doping issue and are eager to prove they are cracking down on drug use.
Shimer feared he would be part of a crackdown he didn't deserve.
"It's a scary thought: Somebody just snaps their fingers and all of a sudden your life is ruined," Shimer said today. "I don't take my hat off anymore because I think all of my hair fell out."
In early December, David Kurtz, the vice president of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, said he received notice from FIBT that Shimer's "A" sample from Nov. 7 showed a 16-to-1 T/E ratio. (Each urine sample is split into "A" and "B" samples.)
Ratios over 6-to-1 are considered high. The "B" sample, which was not analyzed until late January, showed a similarly high level, around 14-to-1.
"This had a devastating impact," Kurtz said. "We were literally stunned. ... [Shimer] is our franchise player. We would have lost sponsorship, been disgraced. And we are preparing to host the 2002 Olympic Games [in Salt Lake City]. It was a disaster of unmitigated proportions. It was a lot of lost sleep."
Shimer and the U.S. federation immediately enlisted the help of David Black, a doctor in Memphis who had been involved in a similar drug dispute involving middle distance runner Mary Slaney. Chris Lindsey, a committee member of the USOC doping control program, and U.S. bobsled president Jim Morris also were involved. Shimer and his supporters arranged for a number of medical tests they hoped would be carried out secretly.
Word of the elevated samples, however, soon leaked. Kurtz said that at a meeting in Austria attended by him and bobsled coach Steve Maiorca, captains from other nations' teams demanded to FIBT officials that Shimer be suspended.
Kurtz said Shimer's urine samples taken during the January Olympic trials in Salt Lake City had T/E ratios of 7.2-to-1 and 6.1-to-1. The U.S. bobsled federation dug up the last nine years of sample results for Shimer, which showed an average T/E ratio that was high: 4.2-to-1. The average male has a 1-to-1 ratio.
Shimer and his representatives argued that Shimer's body chemistry resulted in an appearance of an elevated testosterone level when in fact, Shimer and U.S. bobsled officials say, Shimer has abnormally low levels of both testosterone and epitestosterone. They say his epitestosterone is so low that it blows up the ratio, making the testosterone appear to be higher than it really is. The evidence was examined by the FIBT and its medical commission.
"If the medical people tell me that further tests confirm the T/E is caused by a banned substance, I believe the penalty is two years," said FIBT president Bob Storrey, referring to the length of a suspension. "Mr. Shimer didn't get any special treatment."
Shimer's case resembles Slaney's, whose dispute remains unresolved. Since being suspended by the world governing body of track and field last year, Slaney has maintained her innocence, arguing that the elevated ratio resulted from a number of factors including taking birth control pills.
"I know when I heard about Mary Slaney, I thought: 'Wow, she got caught,' " Shimer said. "Now I know, with what I've gone through, this whole T/E thing is suspect. Not everybody's body chemistry is the same."
The U.S. Olympic Committee recently appointed a panel of drug testing experts to study the T/E test and try to find better tests.
IOC officials announced this week they will study a new method of testosterone detection believed to be far superior to the current method, with the hope of putting it into use soon after these Games. While the current tests the ones Shimer and Slaney underwent cannot differentiate between external and natural testosterone, the new carbon isotope machine reportedly can. It will be used here in Nagano.
U.S. bobsledder Mike Dionne is currently contesting a three-month suspension by FIBT for a positive test for ephedrine, a banned substance. Dionne contends the ephedrine came from taking cold medication. U.S. Olympic Committee president Dick Schultz has made an appeal to the International Court of Sports Arbitration on behalf of Dionne.
Shimer appeared in the last three Olympic Games but has never won a medal. He is considered a medal favorite this year, as he has been near the top of the World Cup standings in both the two-man and four-man bobsled events.
Yet he was dismayed this evening to be answering questions about drug tests, not test runs, after his last practice ride on Nagano's bobsled track, the Spiral.
"It was frightening," Shimer said. "It shouldn't have been an issue. My name should have never come out with this. This has been a huge distraction."
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