Blood Passport Concept Questioned; Claudia Pechstein’s Innocence Confirmed in Medical Report

Column by Steven V. Selthoffer, Swimming World Senior European Columnist

BONN, Germany, February 4. THE concept for creating a blood passport system suffers a major setback to standardize measures for athletes with a new report published in the Deutsche Zeitschrift für Sportmedizin.

The report will have a ripple effect to athletes in all sports. The new method of finding drug cheats has been centered on Claudia Pechstein, who has been in a long battle to prove her innocence. The nine-time Olympic speed skater medalist, and five-time Olympic gold medalist from Germany, Claudia Pechstein was proven innocent in a medical report written by Prof. Dr. Winfried Gassmann.

Pechstein had been banned for two years by CAS, after battling the ISU, for her reticulyte reading of 1.05% above normal, measured in Hamar, NOR, by a non-accredited lab in 2009. The ban ends next week, February 09, 2011.

The Summary of the report reads, "There has been no increase in hemoglobin level in the course of the season in 2008/2009. The same holds true for the reticulytes with the exception of the two controls taken at the world championships at Hamar, which have led to the doping ban. In Mrs. Pechstein, elevated reticulyte counts were never followed by a relevant increase of hemoglobin, e.g. greater than 1 g/dl. Instead, the mean hemoglobin level was 14.3 g/dl during the next four weeks after the reticulytes, and 14.6 g/dl after normal counts."

The investigation showed that, if Mrs. Pechstein was guilty, with a higher than average reticulyte count, then her hemoglobin level should have gone up, proportionally. It did not. It went down 0.3 g/dl measured at 14.3 g/dl. Compared to a mean level of 14.6g/dl.

Which demonstrates how weak the arguments and the Hamar figures were, upon which the case was based. The eight-page report includes comprehensive and detailed scientific analysis of methodologies employed, charts for reticulyte percentage-hamatokrit percentage, and hamoglobinwert percentage comparisons. Other tables compare data from 2000-2009, between pages 227-235.

The summary states, "This analysis should have been done by the ISU authorities prior to accusing the skater."

The report confirms the dangers of the over reliance upon indirect evidence of doping, highlighted on multiple occasions by Dr. Klaas Faber, Chemometry Consultancy, NED; Dr. Roland Augustin, former NADA, CEO, Germany, and others over the course of the past three to five years.

Pechstein will return to skating this month, but, the damage to her life, personally and professionally, including her career and reputation should never be understated.

Pechstein is Germany's and Europe's top winter Olympian. When Pechstein steps back on the ice next week, expectations are that the applause will be thunderous. Many are hoping the sport executives and the anti-doping officials who engineered this disaster have learned a lesson.

Analysis of the 10 Year Blood Data of Speedskater Claudia Pechstein
By Prof. Dr. Winfried Gassmann

Deutsche Zeitschrift für Sportmedizin