Contador is not alone; clenbuterol positives are not uncommon

The international sport media has been thrown into a fervor again today over the announcement of Alberto Contador’s positive drug test for clenbuterol.  Unfortunately, he is not alone, as clenbuterol positives have been a recurring problem.  The table below summarizes some of the other cases.  We also highlight some of the things we have learned about clenbuterol and the realities of detecting it through drug tests.

What we have learned:

1) The best way to know if clenbuterol was deliberately used for doping purposes is to evaluate the amount present in the athlete’s urine.

2) Labs can detect minute amounts of clenbuterol on drug tests.  As a result, even very small amounts of contamination in a supplement product can cause a positive drug test.  The Jessica Hardy case is a perfect example.  She was pulled out of the Beijing Olympics at the last minute and was sanctioned because very low levels of clenbuterol were found present in her urine.  Clenbuterol contamination was discovered in a supplement she had been taking.

3) Athletes from China account for the most cases, but Spanish athletes have also been involved.   Twenty years ago there was an epidemic of serious clenbuterol toxicity in Spanish persons – non-athletes.  It was thoroughly investigated and traced to a farm that was using huge doses to bulk up cattle.  Athletes were not involved.   The Spanish authorities responded by establishing new controls, which remain in effect today.

Below is a table of clenbuterol drug test violations as summarized by Zack Bilgake on,

Djamolidine Abdoujaparov UZB Cycling 1997 Tour de France/Stage 2 (July 6) Retired
Xiong Guoming CHN Swimming out of competition test in 1999 (March 8 ) 3-year suspension
Wang Wei CHN Swimming out of competition test in 1999 (March 8 ) 3-year suspension
Mariano Puerta ARG Tennis 2003 ATP Viña del Mar (February 12) *ARGUED FOOD CONTAMINATION 9-month susp. + $5600 fine
Zhou Jie CHN Swimming out of competition test in 2005 (Sept 6) *ARGUED FOOD CONTAMINATION 2-year suspension
Karol Beck SVK Tennis 2005 Davis Cup semi v. Argentina (Sept 25) 2-year suspension
Anzhelika Gavrilova KAZ Speed skating positive test before 2006 Olympics (Jan 4) 1-year suspension
Mitchil Mann AUS Weightlifting 2 positive samples in 2006 (Oct 30, Nov 3) 2-year suspension
Ouyang Kunpeng CHN Swimming tested positive before 2008 Olympics (July 1) *ARGUED FOOD CONTAMINATION lifetime ban
Jessica Hardy USA Swimming 2008 U.S. Olympic trials (July 4) *TAINTED NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENT/ADVOCARE voluntary Olympic withdrawal/1-year suspension
Reni Maitua AUS Rugby positive test by ASADA (May 20/2009) 2-year suspension
Tong Wen CHN Judo stripped of 2009 world title (May 10/2010) *ARGUED FOOD CONTAMINATION 2-year suspension
Li Fuyu CHN Cycling In-competition test at 2010 Dwars Door Vlaanderen (March 24) 2-year suspension
Callum Priestley GBR Hurdles tested positive February 2010 (Sept 5) *ARGUED FOOD CONTAMINATION 2-year suspension

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