Ironman, ITU and anti-doping education

Can last week's agreement between the ITU and Ironman help with anti-doping efforts? Absolutely. But Beth McKenzie is determined to do her bit, too.

| February 6, 2017 | NEWS

Photo >Syda Productions |

Last week we learned that Ironman and the ITU had agreed to "a historic cooperation framework to further develop and grow triathlon." It wasn't actually earth-shattering news - the two organizations have actually been on pretty good terms since IOC Member Marisol Casado became president of the ITU, taking over from Les McDonald in 2008. They've been woking towards harmonizing the sport's rule book for a while, amongst other initiatives.

Now, more than ever, the two organizations have little choice but to get along - last year Ironman acquired events company Lagardere, which suddenly put them in control of no less than five ITU World Triathlon Series events.

Ironman and the ITU signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that included a number of "priorities" - first on the list was the following:

Harmonizing anti-doping efforts to continue to protect clean athletes and the integrity of the sport had reached out to Kate Mittelstadt, the director of Ironman's Anti-Doping Program, last week to figure out exactly what they meant by "harmonizing." 

"Both Ironman and ITU are signatories of the WADA Code," Mittelstadt said in an email. "The continuing opportunities around harmonization capture things like outreach and education, coordination with National Federations and National Anti-Doping Organizations, ensuring coordinated testing of athletes in middle and long distance triathlon, and ensuring that our programs and respective anti-doping rules are fully aligned under the Code. The real priority is ensuring that harmonization continues so that we are collectively protecting clean athletes and the integrity of sport." 

"I think that WTC and USADA can do a much better job informing and teaching athletes, pros and age groupers, around this, for some reason I think that most (and mostly age groupers) may be consuming something that contains some drugs that may come as positive in a test and they don't really know about it and most likely they may not be consuming that for getting consciously a sport advantage."

We reached out to Beth McKenzie (nee Gerdes), one of the two athletes who had tested positive (it is believed the source of the substance was contaminated salt tablets) and asked if she felt that she "had received enough information and education around doping control from either organization (Ironman and USA Triathlon)?" We also asked if she felt there was "anything you now wish you had known that might have helped prevent all of this?"

McKenzie had laid out the details of her positive test in a blog post and has chosen not to do any interviews on the subject, but has expressed a desire to "find some greater good from this" and replied to our questions:

"I am in the USADA out-of-comptetion pool, so I receive education from USADA. Because of this, I cannot say that I "didn't know" there was a risk in any supplement, including salt pills. However, the majority of WTC athletes who are tested are likely pros and age groupers who are not in National Anti-Doping Organizations. (Even I was just added in 2016 to USADA's.) I strongly believe that WTC needs to add a significant educational facet to their anti-doping program because, to my knowledge, they offer very little education. I have already sent a recommendation to the WTC suggesting that they increase athlete education online, but also add a simple power point slide in every mandatory pre-race briefing. I hope that other athletes see these recommendations and lobby for the same.

"I have read some stories of age groupers who "didn't know" their medication was on a banned list. A simple warning to every athlete racing on supplement risks and a recommendation to cross-check any medication for banned substances on could go a long way in athlete education by the WTC. I truly want some greater good to come out of my sanction and will continue to work for it."

Ironman's anti-doping website does provide a detailed list of rules including links to websites that outline risks from supplements.and includes the specific warning:

  • Remember no guarantee can be given that any supplement is free from banned substances
  • Assess the need: all athletes should seek advice from a medical professional or nutritionist on their need to use supplement products
  • Assess the risk: undertake thorough research of all supplement products you are considering taking and keep evidence of your research
  • Assess the consequences: you could receive a 4-year ban