Drug-testing rules for USATF masters track to be kept secret?

Don't ask, don't tell?

We know that drug-testing is coming to USATF masters track. We know such tests will start at 2011 outdoor nationals in Ohio. But we don’t know the details, and the latest minutes of the Masters T&F Executive Committee only fuel the mystery. According to Max Hamlyn’s summary of a June 30 conference call, “It was not clear whether all the rules for testing would be made known to the general athlete or not.” Say what? A game with no rules? What the heck does that mean? Answers might come at Sacramento nationals this coming week. Info sessions by USADA reps are set for 5 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday. The traditional Friday night athletes meeting — where complaints about the meet are fielded — has been canceled this year.

Here’s the portion of the June 30 conference call that dealt with drug-testing:

Drug Testing
a] There will be two sessions held during the Masters Outdoor Championships in Sacramento (each approximately 1 hour long) at 5:00 p.m. on Friday July 23rd. and at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday July 24th. These are educational meetings run by USADA and will be held in the registration building. It is only necessary to attend one meeting.
b] There was considerable discussion on an age cut-off for drug testing with 80 as the most likely cut-off, but there was considerable discussion about whether an age cut-off was either advisable or legal by WADA Rules.
c] Much discussion, without reaching consensus, was held on TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions).
d] It was not clear whether all the rules for testing would be made known to the general athlete or not.

The good news: Our leadership is tackling the toughest issues head-on. They’re trying to figure out how to make masters drug-testing bulletproof from a legal perspective.

The bad news: They haven’t a clue how to resolve these issues.

No consensus on TUE’s? Then forget about getting athletes to fess up to doctor-prescribed medications on the banned list.

Fact is, the science of masters drug-testing is barely out of diapers. How much don’t we know? Well, try this eye-opening study on for size.

Researchers in Rome did a study titled “Prevalence of Undiagnosed Testosterone Deficiency in Aging Athletes: Does Exercise Training Influence the Symptoms of Male Hypogonadism?” It was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine by the International Society of Sexual Medicine. A friend sent me the 10-page article, which is very technical — and doesn’t mention masters track.

But the report’s abstract starts out:

Worldwide many aging males practice sports. A high prevalence of late-onset male hypogonadism has been observed in general population. Sport-participation influences the neuroendocrine system and may decrease serum testosterone. . . . This preliminary study was designed to estimate the prevalence and the symptoms of undiagnosed testosterone deficiency in aging athletes.

So what does that mean to us?

Well, if you have this condition, your doctor may give you testosterone — which might be one of the baddest banned PED’s (performance-enhancing drugs).

So how many older athletes have hypogonadism?

Here’s what the Italian researchers say:

The mean sample age was 61.9 (plus or minus) 7.5 years (range 50–75). Severe or mild testosterone deficiency was observed in 12% and 18%, respectively, of overall athletes, with the highest prevalence in athletes >70 years (27.5% and 25.0%, respectively). TT did not correlate with age, training duration, or questionnaire scores. No differences were observed for nonspecific symptoms of hypogonadism, IIEF-15 and CES-D scores between eugonadal and severe hypogonadal athletes.

So what’s the bottom line? The study says:

A significant percentage of aging athletes had undiagnosed testosterone deficiency. In a relevant number of these cases, testosterone deficiency was not overtly symptomatic. Our results suggest that sport-participation per se can influence the symptoms of hypogonadism. The history of clinical symptoms may be inaccurate to diagnose testosterone deficiency in aging athletes. Future research should address the clinical relevance and the specific risks of testosterone deficiency in aging athletes, and the need of a systematic pre-participation serum testosterone evaluation.

So we’re in a bind. Lots of older men might have “undiagnosed testosterone deficiency.” If we get checked out, we can get healthier with some good ol’ testosterone. But that means we’re drug cheats. If we don’t get checked out, we might have serious health problems, or shorter lives.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Further, the researchers wrote:

Perhaps as a result of limited sexual opportunity, to the paucity of symptoms or to their absence, individuals have no reason to check serum testosterone, and so a high prevalence of undiagnosed testosterone deficiency probably exist.

It is possible therefore that also a noteworthy number of aging individuals doing training or practicing sports are affected by undiagnosed testosterone deficiency. Owing to the association between the reduced effects of testosterone and increased body demands, hypogonadal athletes are exposed to further specific health risks, depending on the type of performed physical activity.

There has not been adequate research into the prevalence and symptoms of testosterone deficiency in males practicing sports in advanced age.

Yikes! This means we don’t know beans. And this is just one study of one health issue involving masters athletes.

The guy who sent me the study wrote me:

This is a case of the elephant in the room. This problem isn’t restricted to testosterone. Many older athletes have sleep apnea and required drugs like modafinil (Provigil; a banned substance) to stay awake. These athletes are particularly disadvantaged when they must cross multiple time zones. There (needs) to be some compromise between fair competition and the legitimate medical needs of athletes.

Can USATF masters track thread this microscopic needle?

We’ll find out soon.

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July 18, 2010

10 Responses

  1. Joseph Budziszewski - July 18, 2010

    I think that any track and field athlete that places first in a national event or better, should be drug tested after he or she finishes.

  2. Jack Karbens - July 18, 2010

    An age cutoff of 40 years old is “advisable” for drug testing of masters track and field athletes. If an athlete’s physician prescribes a drug, there should be no “legal” issue.

    It will be interesting to learn whether the drug meetings at the nationals allow open discussion or are top down presentations which treat masters athletes with the same formula as would be applied to open Olympics athletes.

    The study cited above should be included in the many reasons for postponing testing of masters athletes until long after 2011, perhaps never.

  3. John B - July 19, 2010

    How does the WMA handle this?
    Or what about other Olympic sports that (presumably) have masters competitors.

  4. Jerome Kopf - July 20, 2010

    “A game with no rules.” If this is not a cheap shot, what is it? There ARE rules. The illegal drugs are specified. THOSE are the rules, like ’em or not.

  5. Bob Lida - July 20, 2010

    Seems like a mine field to me. As you get older, you’re going to be dealing with something. Even allergy shots are steroid related

  6. andy pitas - July 20, 2010

    so, if ca. legalizes marijuana, and essentially santa cruz, ca. denver and several other places already have, then what? i can see performance enhancing drugs being a concern, but according to the list i just read, cannabinoids are listed. this is utter crap. they are not performance enhancing. just another example of officiousness on the part of arrogant busybodies. mind your own damn business. if someone has trace amounts from the past, what business is it of anybodies? will a doctor’s scrip be good enough? get a damn life you idiots. do i see you self-righteous a—-holes competing against me? not very likely. bunch of puritan moralists in some office minding other peoples business. i am personally sick of your sort of human.

  7. Mary Rosado - July 21, 2010

    I apologize for my hasty writing but I am on my way to Sacramento yet wanted to respond to the recent posting. The USADA protocol for drug testing is not secretive. The athletes’ rights and responsibilities; notification, providing urine sample and sample processing procedures are clearly spelled out in the USADA athlete handbook. [They will be discussed at the two seminars this coming week-end.] The only two things that are confidential for obvious reasons are:

    1. the selection of the event(s) and places in event to be tested and 2. If an athlete tests positive, then the name of the athlete is not disclosed until the athlete, if she or he chooses to contest the finding, has completed that grievance process.

    I expect that masters will have a separate anti doping education seminar at the annual meeting. As the masters LDR Committee anti doping representative (and I am also on the WMA Medical & Anti Doping Committee recently appointed to my own 4-year term), I am also asking the National Office to create a subcommittee or task force to examine the issues involved in testing of masters. For now, we should focus on education of our athletes for the WMA Championships next summer. Our immediate goal should be to be as informed so that our athletes will be on a level plane as our European counterparts. [By the way, the USADA staff is very helpful and friendly, so go ahead and call them with your concerns.] Good luck to all in Sacramento.

    Mary V. Rosado

  8. Simon Martin - July 21, 2010

    This from the USA’s current top running coach (arguably):

    “If the true aim of drug testing is to insure the health of athletes, then there should be greater
    flexibility in allowing athletes with a medical condition that requires medical treatment to be
    treated with the drug of choice for that condition regardless of whether or not it is banned.

    “For example some male athletes that had to have a testicle removed have been allowed to
    receive testosterone replacement therapy and still compete.

    “Any competent physician can tell you that hypo-gonadism and other conditions often require
    treatment that is banned by governing bodies. In the case of hypo-gonadism, which results
    in low testosterone levels, the vast majority of patients receiving that treatment have not had a
    testicle removed. Years and years of heavy endurance training is known to result in low
    hormonal levels for many athletes that should be treated, but yet these athletes are basically
    told that if they wish to still compete they can not be treated in the best manner for their

    “Some type of program needs to be set up to allow athletes with legitimate medical needs to be
    treated correctly while still ensuring that they gain no unfair advantage over their competition.”


  9. Prostate Cancer Survivor - July 22, 2010

    The officiousness of track and field will never really end. From the old ugly days of the AAU to the patronizing style of today’s body, adults who choose to compete in USATF competitions need to organize assertively to put in place leadership that cares about our health and well-being. By the way, I just had the testosterone conversation with my surgeon, and I told him I had to pass on that option because I run in track meets. He looked at me as if I were an idiot, and perhaps I am, for enduring track and field associations for so long.

  10. Gary England - November 16, 2010

    I was at the first TAC drug testing meeting which was an effort by the executive director to keep power over the athletes as amateurism and it’s restrictive rules were swept aside. At that time I stated that this whole effort would be the driving force that relegates T&F to a third tier sport and would cost the sport more monetarily than the elite, youth and masters programs budgets combine, it did. As those meetings progressed over the years and TAC put a secretary in charge of it and their position became more untenable. Finally they washed their hands of it by turning it over to the WADA where there was not debate. The masters group is in the process of repeating history.

    It would be wise for USATF to remember, in this country you only have to file to bring a law suit which will cause USATF to spend more money to defend. In the end the winners are the lawyers and WADA, follow the money. It is not about fairness or our health and well being. What started out being a power play turned into being all about money. As we debate fairness remember, the old magician says “watch this hand”

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