Olympic runner Shelby Houlihan said she has been banned from the sport for four years following a positive test for anabolic steroids that she attributes to eating a pork burrito.
Houlihan said in a post on Instagram Monday that a burrito she ate before the test contained pig organ meat, or offal, which she said can lead to a positive test for nandrolone. A study funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found trace amounts of nandrolone can be found in that kind of meat and warned about the possibility of a false positive.
The ban will prevent the 28-year-old from competing in upcoming US Olympic Trials and the Tokyo Olympic Games. Doping accusations and investigations have led to multiple bans of athletes and even entire countries from competing, including a two-year ban on Russia from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The runner said she received an email from AIU on January 14, 2021, informing her that a drug test she took December 15, 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,” she said in the post. “I had never even heard of nandrolone.”
What is nandrolone?
Nandrolone is a synthetic, anabolic steroid analog of testosterone, according to the National Institutes of Health.
NIH says it can be used for testosterone replacement therapy to increase nitrogen retention and fat-free muscle mass.
Houlihan said after she learned of the positive test, she put together a log of everything she ate the week prior to the 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,” she said.
Certain pigs produce the chemical naturally, with pig organ meat, or offal, having the highest levels of nandrolone, she said in her post.
Olympic aspirations dashed
Houlihan said she learned on June 11 that her explanation of the positive test was not accepted by the Court of Arbitration, prompting the four-year ban.
“I feel completely devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed by the very sport that I’ve loved and poured myself into just to see how good I was,” the runner said in her post. “I want to be very clear. I have never taken any performance enhancing substances. And that includes that of which I am being accused.”
Houlihan said she did everything she could to prove her innocence and return to her beloved sport, including passing a polygraph test and having her hair sampled.
“WADA agreed that test proved that there was no build up of this substance in my body, which there would have been if I were taking it regularly,” Houlihan said.
Houlihan’s coach Jerry Schumacher called out the organizations that banned the runner in a statement Monday, saying 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 told CNN it “applies the World Anti-Doping Code equally to athletes from all over the world.” Houlihan’s case “was heard by a three-member panel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which made its decision after hearing evidence and arguments from the athlete’s lawyers and the AIU,” a statement from AIU said.
CNN reached out to WADA, and USA Track and Field for comment.
The coach said he knows Houlihan is innocent and “has had her entire career taken away from her for something she didn’t do.”
As for Houlihan, she said the dream she’s had since she the age of 5 has been ripped away.
“Since I started running when I was 5 years old, I’ve had dreams of running professionally, setting records, winning an Olympic gold medal and being one of the best in the world. I have always blindly believed that I was good enough to achieve those things,” she said.
Now that she’s been accused of doping, the runner has doubled down on her love of the sport.
“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,” she said. “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.”
CNN’s Wayne Sterling contributed to this report.