By Phillip Whitten
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, June 7. YESTERDAY, the International Amateur Swimming Federation (FINA) dropped a bombshell on the world of swimming when it announced that Costa Rican national hero, Claudia Poll — her nation's only Olympic gold medalist — had tested positive for norandrosterone, an illegal performance-enhancing steroid, and would be banned from the sport for four years.
Today, a tearful Poll, 29, proclaimed her innocence and told SwimInfo she "will fight this to the
end. "I love this sport and always will."
Poll said she believes that sloppy methods and handling, and mislabeling of urine samples led to her falsely being accused of using the drug.
"I have been involved for many years in this sport," she said, "and I have always, treated my training, competitions and everything that surrounds it with the utmost dignity and respect.
"The positive drug test attributed to me is the result of misauthorizations, lies, exchanges of urine containers and pressure. My sample was exchanged without a proper authorization from FINA, and I was
pressured to give a sample at a certain time. I was then lied to when the sampling agent said he needed
my sample immediately, because he had to return immediately to his country (Guatemala), but then he did not leave until the following day. After all this, my urine sample was in the hands of the sampling agent
for six complete days before he sent it for analysis. All of this the FINA Doping Panel says is irrelevant
to my case. Amazing!"
Poll said she had been tested 11 times in the past 12 months — including twice after the positive test on February 25 — with the results always being negative. "The only time I am accused of a doping offense is after so many irregularities have occurred. My case is the first where an athlete has a kit ( A and B bottles # FIFA 131063) and the documents with a sample that proves the wrongdoing of the sampling agent."
"What credibility is there in a doping control program if the rules are violated by the sampling agent?,"
she asked. "And how can a system be fair if one of the FINA members hearing my case is also a member of
CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport), which will hear my appeal?"
Poll had a message for all athletes and coaches:
"Please be aware of any wrongdoing by doping agents,
and be ten times more careful during your doping control tests, so what has happened to me does not happen to anybody else."
An emotional Poll said she "will fight this suspension knowing that I have not done anything wrong and that the truth has to prevail.
"My trust in God, my family, my country and myself give me the energy to fight. My dignity and my love for this sport will not change.
"I will be back," she promised. "I do not know when at the moment, but I will, and I will return better than ever, proud of who I am, where I come from and what I have achieved in life, because if God is with me, who can be against me?
Poll won Olympic gold in the 200 meter freestyle at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and at the 1998 World Championships in Perth. At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, she won two bronze medals. She holds the world record for the short course 400 meter freestyle.
Many of Poll's rivals reacted with shock upon learning she had tested positive. The USA's Lindsay Benko, who broke Poll's 200 meter short course world record at the Short Course World Championships in April, told SwimInfo: "I am shocked. Claudia's always been very nice to me, but being nice doesn't matter. If she cheated, she should be punished."
Double Olympic silver medalist, Martina Moravcova of Slovakia, said she was "saddened."
Australia's double Olympic champion, Susie O'Neill, told the Australian AAP newswire today she was not surprised to hear that Poll of Costa Rica has tested positive.
"I think she was a nice girl to talk to, but some of her physical attributes always made me wonder. "I'm surprised she got caught…but it doesn't surprise me that she was taking some sort of steroid."