November 26, 2009 (Lausanne, Switzerland) — The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has rendered a landmark final decision in the arbitration concerning German speed skater Claudia Pechstein. As a result there will likely be major implications in the world of cycling. Five-time Olympic gold winner Pechstein, who has never failed a doping test, is now facing a two-year suspension based on abnormal blood values found during the World Speedskating Championships in Hamar, Norway this past February.
At that event, Pechstein’s reticulocytes (immature red blood cells) values were measured at 3.49, 3.54 and 3.38% (values above 2.4% are considered ‘abnormal’). Ten days after the Hamar event, an out-of-competition blood sample was collected from the athlete, showing a percentage of reticulocytes value of 1.37. The International Skating Union (ISU) then proceeded with disciplinary proceedings against Pechstein, claiming the abnormal blood values were evidence of blood doping. Pechstein and the German Speedskating Federation appealed this decision to the CAS. The CAS has now upheld the ISU’s decision – official release here. Pechstein will apparently appeal this judgment to the Federal Swiss Supreme Court reports Wikipedia.
A CAS panel concluded that: “the ISU has discharged its burden of proving to the comfortable satisfaction of the Panel that the abnormal values of percentage of reticulocytes recorded by Ms. Pechstein in Hamar on February 6 and 7, 2009, and the subsequent sharp drop recorded on February 18, 2009, cannot be reasonably explained by any congenital or subsequently developed abnormality. The Panel finds that they must, therefore, derive from the athlete’s illicit manipulation of her own blood, which remains the only reasonable alternative source of such abnormal values.”
Wikipedia describes Pechstein as “the most successful German Winter Olympian of all time.” Many Canadians will likely recognize Pechstein’s name as the redoubtable speed skater that Canadian Clara Hughes worked so hard to beat in her epic 2006 Olympic gold victory in the 5,000m event at Turin, Italy. Hughes ended up with gold, relegating Pechstein to second place, while fellow Canadian Cindy Klassen picked up the bronze in that race. Hughes is a rare athlete to have won Olympic medals at both the winter (speed skating Turin, 2006) and summer games (bronze medals in cycling: individual road race and ITT in Atlanta, 1996).
Pechstein, who works as a police officer in Germany, will now likely also lose that job as a result of her blood doping conviction. See here.
As Pedal reported in June, the UCI is also initiating disciplinary proceedings, in conjunction with the various national cycling federations, against five cyclists whose biological passports show abnormalities in their blood profiles. The three Spaniards and two Italian cyclists are:
* Igor Astarloa Ascasibar (ESP)
* Pietro Caucchioli (ITA)
* Francesco De Bonis (ITA)
* Ruben Lobato Elvira (ESP)
* Ricardo Serrano Gonzalez (ESP)
The UCI, at that time, also stressed however that the vast majority of some 840 cyclists in the biological passport program do not display blood profile abnormalities – read more here.
An editorial at Deutsche Welle describes the CAS decision as a victory for doping investigators. “Had the speed skater been successful in her appeal, investigators would have been thrust back into the old days when they were constantly playing catch-up with doping athletes.” – read more here.