M50 British thrower gets 4-year ban for refusing drug test at home

Read the report of Anti-Doping Tribunal (PDF)

David Burrell is no Roger Bannister. But in getting a four-year doping suspension from UK Athletics, he became a pioneer just the same. The 53-year-old thrower (specializing in javelin and discus) may be the first masters athlete sanctioned for refusing to take a surprise-visit urine test at his home. On Aug. 23, 2017, after getting up at 7:09 a.m., emptying his bladder and brushing his teeth, he heard the doorbell ring and a loud banging on the door, he told a three-person tribunal. The Doping Control Officer’s story differs from David’s, but the masters athlete indicated “that he had laughed at the DCO and told him that ‘this is not a random test, and I know why you are here.’” Turns out that David coached national champ javelinist Joanna Blair, who would be provisionally suspended in October 2017 after failing a doping test. The hearing panel explored every nook and cranny of the dueling accounts — including David’s contention that he had to get to work on time or risk losing his job, since he had an appraisal scheduled that day. The only thing they didn’t ask: Why in the name of God is a mediocre thrower subject to out-of-competition drug testing in the first place? This is chilling. (According to a USATF masters official, the nearest case to this was at Ohio masters nationals in 2011, “when an athlete walked away, essentially refusing a test and was later suspended.”) If the British practice of banging on your door for a drug test spreads to other countries, the nuisance will only lead to needless suspensions and drain masters budgets of valuable funds. David can return to competition in October 2021. Will WMA affiliates return to their senses?

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March 11, 2018

22 Responses

  1. track fan - March 12, 2018

    The camel now has his nose in the tent and the rest of his body will follow.

  2. Michael D Walker - March 12, 2018

    I believe that in joining the USATF, we agree to a similar “random” test.
    Reading the British report, could David have avoided the suspension if he had just offered to do the test at another time instead of outright refusing?

  3. Mike W - March 12, 2018

    I am not sure why Ken is so upset about this. Burrell’s leading athlete (a national champion) has failed a dope test and he has refused to give a sample. This is not some nobody competing in local events but rather a leading coach with Olympic caliber athletes.

    One can’t help wondering if Joanna Blair, in exchange for leniency, told the authorities what Burrell was doing. It would be a lot easier to get him removed from the sport as a drug cheat than as a coach who encourages his athletes to cheat. The latter is he said / she said whereas the former is proven by a urine sample – or his refusal to provide one.

  4. Ken Stone - March 12, 2018

    Answer is yes, Michael:

    68. The Athlete was 100% positive that he made an offer to test either at his workplace or at an alternative time. Likewise, if the DCO had come back at 18:00 that evening he would have provided a Sample.

  5. Ken Stone - March 12, 2018

    But the tribunal didn’t believe David:

    130. In this regard, the Tribunal noted that the Athlete had expected to be tested, albeit not at home. On any view he had plainly only allowed limited engagement with the DCO before getting into his van and driving away. The Tribunal found that, had the Athlete made any offer of to be tested at an alternative time as he claimed, this would have been recorded by the DCO. The Tribunal further could not readily understand why, if the Athlete had genuinely been willing to submit a Sample later, he had not then made any contact whatsoever with UKAD to endeavour to do so.

  6. Michael D Walker - March 12, 2018

    I agree with # 3, Mike W [no relation]. David Burrell is apparently an elite level coach and as one of his athletes just failed and has been suspended, surely he understands the procedure. I wonder did he later submit a sample?

    This occurred in the UK. Are the rules and test procedures the same as in the US?

  7. Ken Stone - March 12, 2018

    My understanding is that USATF elite athletes sign a deal that they’ve agreed to out-of-competition testing. When they quit pro track, they opt out of deal. Masters athletes aren’t subject to home visits.

  8. track fan - March 12, 2018

    OK here’s a little secret that some may not know about. There are many masters athletes who are taking prescribed meds that are banned and in order to compete they cycle off them in order to test clean if they are selected. Against doctors orders I might add. Some just risk getting caught and continue taking their meds. Others just skip drug tested meets. Why not get a TUE? Do you know how difficult it is to get a TUE? If you apply and are (most likely) denied you are putting a big “test me” sign on your back. I personally know 3 of these athletes. If we are ever subject to OOC testing, watch our numbers drop.

  9. Michael D Walker - March 12, 2018

    # 7, Ken the USATF web site does not make it perfectly clear concerning if Masters Athletes are subject to home visits. In practice they probably don’t do home tests for masters but the wording seems to say that they could which is something to think about.
    David Burrell is a different case as he also coaches elite athletes and is UK citizen – their rules may be different.

  10. Lesley Richardson - March 12, 2018

    Any athlete in the UK whether masters age or not are eligible to be tested. Whether this is through elite ability on a registered testing pool or through intelligence led testing. Said athletes can be tested anywhere be it home, training venue or at a competition. Refusal to submit to testing is punishable with a sanction as it is an ADRV (anti doping rule violation) in the same way that an adverse finding in a sample is.

  11. Pete Magill - March 14, 2018

    Let’s see: He coaches a doper, then refused to submit to testing himself. Seems like a good suspension to me. And I only wish USATF were so vigilant in tracking down and testing (out of competition) the most obvious PED users in our sport. I’ve personally quit competing in the sport (at least in USATF competitions) because I’m so sick of USATF failing to test obvious dopers and then, even worse, rewarding them with our sport’s honors. I don’t want to line up alongside frauds and cheaters. I don’t want to race them. I don’t want to pretend that their marks count post-race for fear of looking like a bad sport. And, more than anything, I don’t want my own performances to continue to be tainted by the same brush that has painted the image of an entire sport overrun by PEDs. Ken, you can talk about “needless suspensions and [draining] masters budgets of valuable funds,” but PED use is draining the sport of a different kind of valuable asset: Athletes like myself who simply don’t want to put up with BS, PED-fueled competition anymore.

  12. Michael D Walker - March 14, 2018

    Personally, I think that Pete is correct in that there are a lot of masters using PEDs. Probably more than you might think. If our rules say that PEDs are not legal, then the USATF really has to test. Otherwise the rule is useless. Looking at the Elite athletes, testing appears to be only partially successful and cheating clearly continues. Since masters seldom get tested cheating could be pretty widespread as well. Should we continue to test ineffectively, wait for better test procedures or just say that it is up to the individual?

  13. Mr.X - March 15, 2018

    Pete, in your event(s), what are the signs of “obvious doping” outside of superior performance?

  14. Gary Snyder - March 15, 2018

    How would Peter or Michael know who was tested at National T&F Championships?

  15. Michael D Walker - March 15, 2018

    I don’t have any information on who is tested nor do I ask anyone what they are taking but I am amazed by how many people are open and talk about what they are doing. Plus now that testing is becoming more common for masters, people are failing tests and use the same excuses that the elite guys do. I personally believe that we should just make track & field open – take what you want and accept the risks.

  16. Thomas Sputo - March 16, 2018

    #15 wrote “I personally believe that we should just make track & field open – take what you want and accept the risks.” I tend to agree. If the reasoning for disallowing PED’s is to protect people and their health, that is nanny state protectionism that I do not agree with. If the reasoning is to “maintain a level playing field”, then allowing doping still provides a level field … do it if you want. As a master, personally, I can’t get worked up about what someone puts into their body. I’m not putting anything into me that is outside the current rules, but if someone does, I really don’t care. “Winning” is a factor of who showed up on that day, and I have more important things in my life. OUT.

  17. Pete Magill - March 16, 2018

    There is a record kept of who gets tested and who doesn’t: https://www.usada.org/testing/results/athlete-test-history/

    As for testing at National T&F Championships, that’s a completely ineffective way to determine doping. In my events–endurance running–drugs like EPO and its variants become undetectable after 2 days (1/4 that when an athlete is microdosing). The first American ever busted for EPO was masters distance phenom Eddy Hellebuyck, who fearlessly trounced his masters peers weekend after weekend, sometimes on both Saturday and Sunday, while setting records and never requiring the increased recovery (or suffering the normal down periods) that every other non-doping masters runner on the planet requires. He got so cocky with his doping that he actually took EPO while training at the US Olympic Center … where he finally got tested out of competition, failed, and got banned. Only out of competition testing can catch runners on EPO or those who know how to cycle correctly (when using other PEDs) before a meet that has testing.

    As for the question about obvious signs of doping “outside of superior performance”–first, I don’t consider superior performance to be a surefire sign of doping. I know lots of great masters athletes who’ve logged superior performances who in no way raise warning flags. They train hard. They run some great races. And then they recover–or, in many cases, especially post-50, suffer the kinds of injuries that go hand-in-hand with pushing the athletic envelope. Eventually, they bounce back. In my events, these are guys like Nolan Shaheed, Sean Wade, Brian Pilcher, Dennis Simonaitis (who was robbed blind by Eddy all those years), Tony Young, and others. Then there are athletes, like Eddy, who never need down time. Who can set records–or run near-record performances–week after week, month after month, year after year. Or who bonk out terribly one day, only to bounce back at 100% a few days later (or in Tour de France cheat Floyd Landis’s case, a day later). As sports medicine
    expert John Xerogeanes, M.D., said in a 2015 interview with Outside magazine (a quote I use in my next book, SpeedRunner), “Biology only lets you recover so fast, so it’s not like pro athletes’ cells are going to heal faster than our cells.” When healing (hence recovery and sustained peak performance) does occur outside the realm of normal human physiology, that’s when I think out-of-competition testing becomes a necessity. I won’t list names. That’s completely inappropriate without evidence. But I will say that what I once thought was a problem that was limited to Open division competition has certainly claimed a much bigger presence in masters competition.

    To be clear, I am not against a rational drug policy for masters athletes that allows them to take medications that they require to remain healthy. I am against PED use that allows some athletes to excel beyond the natural limits of human physiology.

  18. Annie Compton - March 16, 2018

    re#7/Ken…American masters in the sport of cycling are subject to out-of-competition tests which have resulted in sanctions. I don’t see any reason why track and field athletes (or athletes from any sport that is subject to WADA regulations) would or should be any different…and of course they aren’t as #17 Pete has stated above. The agreement you referenced is most probably the ADAMS/where-abouts registration system, which, of course, masters are not usually subject to.

  19. Jeff Davison - March 16, 2018

    Thanks Peter..
    looks like more than one master on the list. Galen Rupp tested 16 times in one year, Allison Felix over 10 times in one year.

    https://www.usada.org/testing/results/athlete-test-history/

  20. Michael D Walker - March 17, 2018

    Jeff, # 19: By age, Galen & Allison are sub masters but they still compete at the world class level. For 2017, Allison was ranked # 4 in the world [400] & Galen # 6 [marathon]. They compete on our Olympic & national teams and are tested under the elite athlete procedures.

  21. Bill Newsham - March 18, 2018

    Ha! Where I live in NH anyone pounding on the door at 7am looking for a urine sample is likely to SET a WR record for 100m… running for their life.

  22. Joe Ruggless - March 26, 2018

    I would be happy to give them a sample, but I would make one of them hold the cup and my aim wouldn’t be very good.

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