American runner Shelby Houlihan will not be eligible to run at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials after all.
Hours after USA Track and Field indicated that Houlihan would be allowed to run at the Olympic trials, despite a recent decision to uphold her four-year ban for violating anti-doping rules, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee stepped in Thursday evening to clarify the matter.
In a statement provided to USA TODAY Sports, USOPC chief executive officer Sarah Hirshland said the USOPC, “together with USATF,” would adhere to the World Anti-Doping Agency Code and any rulings from the Court of Arbitration for Sport “that govern athlete participation in sanctioned events.”
Translation: Because Houlihan’s four-year ban has been upheld by CAS, she will not be eligible to compete, despite USATF’s earlier indications to the contrary.
The USOPC’s intervention came amid outcry from both the international anti-doping community and prominent American runners, that a runner banned for doping would still be allowed to compete for a spot on the Olympic team.
The Athletics Integrity Unit – which runs the anti-doping program for track and field’s international governing body, World Athletics – also released a statement Thursday saying that it had contacted USATF about Houlihan’s situation. It noted that the CAS decision against Houlihan, which was announced Tuesday, is “final and binding.”
“The AIU clarified that as a Member Federation of World Athletics, USATF must, in the running of its events, respect and implement decisions of hearing bodies such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which are made under the World Athletics Anti-Doping Rules,” the AIU said in its statement.
Houlihan, who holds the American records at both 1,500 and 5,000 meters, tested positive for an anabolic steroid called nandrolone in December. She has strongly denied wrongdoing and believes she must have unknowingly ingested the steroid through pork in a burrito she purchased at a food truck. Studies have found small amounts of nandrolone in pork offal.
In most cases, track athletes who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs first have a hearing before the AIU’s disciplinary panel. But with the Olympic trials and 2021 Tokyo Olympics quickly approaching, Houlihan took her appeal directly to the CAS in Switzerland, which ruled against her and upheld her four-year ban.
Despite the ban, Houlihan remained listed in the fields of both the 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, with the preliminary races set to begin Friday.
Susan Hazzard, a spokesperson for USATF, said in a statement earlier Thursday that the organization would allow allow athletes who are in the midst of an “active appeal process” to continue competing until the process is complete. But in Houlihan’s case, her only remaining option would be to appeal the CAS decision with a Swiss tribunal, which amounts to a legal Hail Mary.