By Phillip Whitten
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, Feb. 7. UNDAUNTED by the decision announced on February 4 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), upholding her four-year ban imposed by FINA after she allegedly tested positive for an illegal steroid, embattled Costa Rican Olympic champion, Claudia Poll, in an exclusive interview with Swimming World and SwimInfo, continued to proclaim her innocence and vowed to fight on.
The greatest athlete in Costa Rican history, Poll, 29, is the first person from her country to win Olympic gold. She won the 200m freestyle at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and added two bronze medals in 2000.
Poll tested positive for the steroid norandrosterone in an out-of-competition test in February 2002 and was suspended by FINA for four years beginning March 26, 2002.
The tall, soft-spoken swimmer has steadfastly maintained her innocence, citing numerous gross irregularities in the handling of her urine sample.
“This is a dark story,” she said, “from doping laboratories and ISO certifications to IOC and FINA rules applied inconsistently. I’ve experienced things no athlete could imagine in their wildest dreams. Although we presented expert witnesses — Professor Maurice Cox from the United Kingdom and Dr. Adriaan van de Veeran from the Netherlands — to substantiate our appeal, their investigations and conclusions were simply not taken in account, dismissed as irrelevant, though these men are world-renowned experts in their fields who presented verifiable evidence.
“After seeing the FINA bureaucracy first-hand these past months, I did not expect the appeal at CAS to prosper. But this is not over yet. We are at the halfway mark, and I have still a long fight ahead of me before I give up– which I simply will not do.
Poll said she has appealed to the ISO Certification Board of Canada (the laboratory that analyzed her urine sample is in Montreal), citing numerous irregularities from mandated IOC and FINA procedures. She is also considering other legal appeals.
“Even if I have to wait four years to compete again, I will do so, because what keeps me going is knowing that I have never taken anything illegal in my life and I never will.”
Poll said she has continued training under longtime coach Francisco Rivas, with time trials every six weeks. Recently she has recorded long course times of “56.25 in the 100m free, 1:59.20 in the 200 and 4:11.95 in the 400, so I have not lost a bit of my competitive drive. Those who know my coach, Francisco Rivas, know he has the mind and capacity to prepare me for anything.”
Poll concluded by thanking “all those friends around the world that have shown me their support through this passage in my life. With the support of my friends and family I am standing as tall and proud as ever of who I am. I have seen so many people with different trials and tribulations — much more difficult ones than those I have been going through — and I have to say to myself: Thank you, God, for my health and for being alive.”
Swimming World and SwimInfo hope to obtain interviews soon with Poll’s key expert witnesses, Drs. Maurice Cox and Adriaan van de Veeran.