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Sioux City native Shelby Houlihan receives 4-year ban ahead of Olympic track trials

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This story has been updated, find the latest information here.

(KTIV) - Sioux City native Shelby Houlihan will not be competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team and has been handed a four-year ban after testing positive for a banned substance.

The ban comes days before the start of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, where the top three in each event earn a spot for the Tokyo Games.

According to NBC News, Houlihan tested for the banned substance nandrolone in December during an out-of-competition drug test administered by the World Anti-Doping Agency. NBC says nandrolone is an anabolic steroid known to increase muscle mass.

Houlihan claims the positive test came from a contaminated burrito she purchased at a food truck near her home in Beaverton, Oregon on Dec. 15, the night before she took the test.

The 28-year-old Houlihan said she received an email from the Athletics Integrity Unit on Jan. 14, notifying her that a drug testing sample returned a finding for nandrolone. Following that notification, she sent the AIU her explanation for why the test came back positive.

NBC says it has been noted in World Anti-Doping Agency documents the consumption of pork can lead to the presence of nandrolone.

"Although my levels were consistent with those of subjects in studies who were tested 10 hours after eating this source and WADA technical guidelines require the lab to consider it when analyzing nandrolone, the lab never accounted for this possibility," said Houlihan in a statement posted on Facebook. "They could have reported this as an atypical finding and followed up with further testing. The anti-doping experts I have reached out to say they should have."

On June 11, Houlihan received the news that the Court of Arbitration did not accept her explanation and handed out the ban.

"This sport means everything. I believe doping and cheating is week. It shows a disbelief in yourself and only shames you, but also shows a disregard for people that support you," said Houlihan. "I would never disrespect the sport, my competitors, my teammates, my coaches, my family, my fans, or myself in this way."

The Sioux City East High School graduate was an Olympian in 2016 and is the U.S. record holder in the 1,500 meters and the 5,000 meters.

The full statement from Houlihan about the ban can be read below:

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.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve put in more time, more miles, have become more dedicated, and have learned to genuinely love this sport. It’s what brings me the most joy. It’s where I feel the most me. I have always done it the right way. I’ve put my head down and just worked at being better year after year. I’ve stayed patient and trusted that the work and consistency would show.

I still have all of the same dreams I had when I was 5 and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been able to have achieved some of them. I still have others that I’m working towards. But the thing that truly drives me is the love and joy I get from what I do and the curiosity to find out what my potential is.

On January 14th, 2021, I received an email from the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), informing me a drug testing sample that I provided on December 15th, 2020 has returned as an Adverse Analytical Finding for a steroid called Nandrolone and that I am therefore subject to an immediate Provisional Suspension. 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. I had never even heard of nandrolone. I have since learned that it has long been understood by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) that eating pork can lead to a false positive for nandrolone, since certain types of pigs produce it naturally in high amounts. Pig organ meat (offal) has the highest levels of nandrolone.

In the following 5 days after being notified, I put together a food log of everything that I consumed the week of that December 15th 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. I notified the AIU that I believed this was the source.

Although my levels were consistent with those of subjects in studies who were tested 10 hours after eating this source and WADA technical guidelines require the lab to consider it when analyzing nandrolone, the lab never accounted for this possibility. They could have reported this as an atypical finding and followed up with further testing. The anti-doping experts I have reached out to say they should have. I did everything I could to prove my innocence. I passed a polygraph test. I had my hair sampled by one of the world’s foremost toxicologists. 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. Nothing moved the lab from their initial snap decision. Instead, they simply concluded that I was a cheater and that a steroid was ingested orally, but not regularly. I believe my explanation fits the facts much better- because it’s true. I also believe it was dismissed without proper due process.

On June 11th, I received the news that the Court of Arbitration did not accept my explanation of what had occurred and has subsequently banned me from the sport for four years.

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.

I want to be very clear. I have never taken any performance enhancing substances. And that includes that of which I am being accused. 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. 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.

This sport means everything to me. I believe doping and cheating is weak. It shows a disbelief in yourself and not only shames you but also shows a complete disregard for people that support you. I would never disrespect the sport, my competitors, my teammates, my coaches, my family, my fans or myself in this way. I love and respect this sport too much. The drive that keeps me going is the curiosity to know how far I can push my natural limits and reach my potential. I have always wanted to be able to stand at the top of that Olympic podium with a gold medal around my neck knowing that I did that. Now, I’m not sure I’ll ever get the opportunity to truly pursue that dream.

I’m going to continue fighting to prove my innocence. I will not sit down and accept a four year ban for something that I did not and would never do. I absolutely respect and whole-heartedly support the fight to catch athletes who disrespect the sport by cheating and doping. But I am not one of them. In the mean time, I ask for respect and privacy while I continue to navigate this stressful time. As devastating as this experience has been, I do feel very fortunate to have such an amazing group of people that have been fighting alongside me and supporting me throughout this nightmare.

Thank you.

Shelby Houlihan
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