Olympic Athlete Returns After Questionable Two-Year Ban; A Case of Global Importance to All Athletes

Column by Steven V. Selthoffer, Swimming World's senior European columnist

ERFURT, Germany, February 14. AFTER a two-year ban, Claudia Pechstein, 38, returned to speed skating at the Gunda-Niemann-Stirnemann Halle in Erfurt, Germany, skating her way to World Cup qualification in both the 1500m and 3000m with times of 2:01.22 and 4:10.05, respectively, earning a spot on the German national team, booking her way to Salt Lake City this week. The crowds screamed, shouted and applauded in approval.

"I am back!" exclaimed a jubilant, Pechstein, clenching her fist and holding a bouquet of flowers, in a warm-down, victory lap. "This is the greatest victory of my life!" said the nine-time Olympic medalist and five-time Olympic gold medalist. More than 100 journalists and media representatives were on hand to witness the historic comeback.

Her 70-year-old, trainer, Joachim Franke, who had to silently witness the agony of his skater being falsely accused and dragged through the courts over the past two years, watched the drama unfold.

Pechstein finished a two-year ban from the sport, last week, because of being convicted of a guess, that she "somehow," "must have" manipulated her blood "someway," because, on one day, her blood reticulyte count was 1.05 percent above the norm, based only on controls (measurements) done in Hamar, NOR, in 2008, by a non-accredited lab.

A Case of Global Importance to All Athletes
Why is this so important to the Aquatic Community? Because the case, in its scope and breath, with the involvement of the ISU, WADA experts, multiple statistical models, the top legal teams, combined with the unbridled public desire by various international sport executives to establish a legal precedent for indirect evidence of doping, and according to anti-doping executives and experts in and out of the sport- the combination of these forces threatened every clean athlete in every sport, everywhere.

It was about lab officials and anti-doping executives utilizing statistical models (in place of long term medical studies) in order to convict Pechstein of "doping," who maintained a 100 percent clean record, with absolutely no record of any anabolic steroids, or banned substance ever being found in her blood or urine in more than 300 tests, for during 10 years. One expert called it a "prosecutor's fallacy."

It was about anti-doping executives wanting to find the greatest European winter Olympic athlete guilty. "She's been on everyone's radar screen for a long time," stated one leading anti-doping executive.

Then, the question is: Why would a clean athlete be on anyone's radar screen when there are data protection laws in the EU and there are statistical models that can be instantly employed to calculate if any statistical anomaly should be of any concern or not?

Athletes should be able to compete free from any fear or from any suspicion from any anti-doping or sport federation executive or from the anti-doping authorities and sport federations they endorse, support and represent.

The case was about prejudging an athlete because of success, then using a single, mathematical suspicion (a scientific term for a statistic outside a given parameter) to justify their negative, human suspicions, and then the elaborate reasons for bringing the case to court, when it should never have come to court in the first place.

It was an attempt to establish indirect evidence of doping at the expense of truth and the welfare of a clean, healthy, Olympic athlete.

It threatened all of sport.

It also showed that the anti-doping authorities did not apply the same equal, ardent zeal to go after other athletes in other countries with blood values similar to Pechstein's in other sports, nor did they go after the younger, 17 and 18-year-old teenagers either, with similar reticulyte readings.

"She was convicted," is the slogan of many anti-doping officials. Stating "she was convicted," is used mainly as a mantra to numb the guilt and to dilute the condemnation, for career-seekers wanting to capitalize on the issue, voicing publicly that they are "in line" and "on message" thus, avoiding their responsibility for destroying the life of an innocent and healthy, athlete and a nine-time Olympic medalist.

It's time to face (and promote) the truth- Pechstein never cheated. Pechstein never doped.

And neither have the other teenagers.

In desiring to win a case of indirect evidence of doping, the anti-doping officials and the ISU, wanted to mainly focus on the issue scientifically, avoiding operational scenarios that have more legitimacy in doping cases than any single, statistical point, attempted to be used as evidence.

It is apparent, that none of the young, teenagers or Pechstein have the finances or any access to, any sophisticated, clandestine, doping supply chain networks nor possess the syringes, centrifuges, medical equipment or scientific knowledge of how to consistently, implement the exotic drugs in such micro doses for such long periods of time, as to ever justify the CAS ruling.

The criminal investigation by the BKA (the German equivalent of the FBI) searching Pechstein's home has revealed nothing. There are no official published reports known at this time of any incriminating evidence such as syringes, centrifuges, or communication forensics against her, linking her to anyone, after nearly two years.

According to experts like Dr. Klaas Faber, Ph.D., Chemometry Consultancy, NED, this is a case that revealed how weak the science was, and how little the lives of athletes actually matter to international sport federations. Due to the tremendous public pressure Pechstein was under, she admitted to contemplating suicide, fighting depression while losing her home, career benefits, and facing severe financial hardship.

Asking one anti-doping official, "How do you restore the life of a falsely accused athlete?" He answered, "There is no program."

One More Hurdle
"I want to win my 10th Olympic medal in Sochi in 2014," stated Pechstein. However, Pechstein now has another legal battle ahead of her. Athletes convicted of any offense longer than six months are banned from the next Olympics following the completion of the ban. This is also known as IOC Rule 45. Pechstein and her legal team have petitioned the IOC.

With more medical reports and evidence mounting in her favor proving she was innocent, the final word has not been handed down by the IOC.

IOC, President, Jacques Rogge has stated, "Athletes are our reason d'être." We will see.

The next question is: Will they place truth, justice and the welfare of the athlete first, or favor their own flawed political systems and sport federations? Stay tuned. There is more to come. This movie is not finished yet.

** Reports and sources include numerous German newspapers and television. We apologize in advance for any inaccuracies or errors in translation. Thank you.