Pechstein Ban Upheld, More Questions Arise

By Steven V. Selthoffer, Senior European Correspondent

BERN, Switzerland, October 20. AS expected, the Swiss Federal Tribunal handed down the decision on September 28, 2010, upholding the two year ban on Claudia Pechstein, GER, set to expire, February 09, 2011. Pechstein is a five-time winter Olympic speed skating gold medalist, and has won nine Olympic medals overall.

The ruling has resulted in a collective atmosphere of frustration and dismay against the ISU, the courts and the anti-doping community over the issues of the heavy emphasis of a single value, used as indirect evidence of doping. "They can't cope with this (case). The statistics and scientists were not correct," stated one leading, anti-doping executive in a telephone conversation.

It appears that the anti-doping community is not divided 50-50, embroiled in a debate about some particular minute scientific point, but more likely along the lines of 90-10 against the authorities for bringing Pechstein to court in the first place. The new ruling demonstrates how weak the courts genuinely are in grasping the emerging sciences, the statistics employed, and the previous points in the case.

Pechstein's own anti-doping agency, NADA, did not and would not prosecute her. Neither did her own speed skating federation.

WADA did not comment as they stated that they were not party to the case. The Swiss Courts and CAS had no comment.

NADA CEO Resigns
The German national anti-doping agency, NADA, lost its third CEO in three years last week with the resignation of Dr. Göttrik Wewer on September 27, days before the Pechstein ruling.

Swimming World Magazine and SwimmingWorld.com previously reported on the problems at NADA back in 2007. The problems were first highlighted and identified by top anti-doping czar Dr. Roland Augustin, CEO of NADA, in speeches and meetings with the German Bundestag, the NADA Board of Directors, DOSB, sport federation chiefs and in other internal reports and communiques. It appears that solid leadership and clear reasoning were incompatible with the Board of Directors.

In previous discussions, Dr. Augustin pointed out the dangers of chronic underfunding and its strategic consequences, the inherent structural deficiencies in weak process management, the lack of robust decision making models, flawed statistical analysis, the need to shore up and protect athletes rights, and cautioned against any over reliance on indirect evidence of doping, to name a few.

The turnover at NADA is an example of why athletes like Pechstein and others are in danger of exotic and damaging legal attacks from intellectual and scientific voyeurism by international sport federations entering into uncharted legal domains in the name of anti-doping.

Now, members of the SPD political party are calling for a national-level investigation into the systemic problems at the agency. "If we lose three CEOs in three years, it's not their fault, it must be something else," stated one political party member.

What is the Value of an Athlete?
And Claudia Pechstein? How is the five-time gold and nine-time Olympic medalist?

It was reported she suffered a nervous breakdown two weeks ago and is in clinical care.

In the previous report for Swimming World Magazine and SwimmingWorld.com, The Value of An Athlete: Pechstein Defended by Medical Experts on March 10, 2010, stated:

What about Pechstein? No one has told the full story. Who has taken the time to understand the point of view from the athlete's perspective? What about Pechstein's own personal internal anguish and agony? The humiliation? The condemnation? The sleepless nights? The ostracizing and rejection as being labeled a doping cheat and from being suspended for "doping" and having a lifetime of work disqualified, over a 1% point reticulyte reading? Pechstein has even been criticized for launching a public defense of herself.

There is no other position or career where such a single, minute, data interpretation, turned into a false accusation can so completely destroy a person and a lifetime of distinguished and inspiring achievement as with a false doping allegation against an athlete in sports.

Pechstein, hopefully, is now recovering.

Unanswered Questions
Pechstein was banned for one, one statistical anomaly found in her blood, 1.05% over the limit.
Done by a non-certified lab. "The data is not reliable enough," said one expert.

The other reticulyte blood values RET%, in her career over ten years, were previously accepted by CAS.

And according to Klaas Faber, Ph.D., Chemometry Consultancy, NED, an expert witness for the defense, explained that the calculations, the mathematical equations that are presently used to determine whether a figure, a number, a blood value is "out of the norm" or not, were not shown. Apparently, they did not show, or demonstrate how the mathematical calculations, that determine the "significance of the value," were done, that would justify bringing the blood anomaly to court, or from being suspicious in the first place.

In an open email to the media, Faber wrote to the prosecution's expert Dr. Sottas, "Rather than maintaining in your conclusion 'the strong abnormality of the blood profile of Mrs. Pechstein,' you should have provided on receipt of the data on 12 February 2009 the proper evaluation of abnormality of the Hamar values. After all, ONLY those values have led to her prosecution and subsequent conviction, not the profile as such. Clearly, proper scientific action on your side would have prevented the case to develop…As it is now, Mrs. Pechstein simply has no idea of the value of the single indirect evidence brought against her."

BKA Drops Investigation
The BKA (Bundeskriminalamt) which had previously searched Mrs. Pechstein's residence back in March, apparently, and according to one undisclosed source, has wound down its investigation earlier in the year. Currently, there have been no reports of any evidence of drug administering needles/syringes, no illegal or any performance-enhancing drugs, nor any remote linking or communication forensics evidence in emails, cell and telephone records, credit cards, and/or personal effects, or any known personal associations that were questionable at this time.

Essentially, with no major announcements from the BKA, and the CAS ruling accusing Pechstein of manipulating her own blood, without any reasonable operational explanation, it makes the CAS ruling look even more questionable and irresponsible over time.

To justify the CAS ruling, how could Pechstein (or any teenagers) in a post 9/11 world, for over nine years, conceal from all German, US, and European international airport authorities, the BKA, and other law enforcement agencies, smuggle in and out any performance enhancing drugs, and administer them in such micro-doses to cause the one-time Hamar value or any other values?

The sport world wants answers.

Speaking with an expert, could Pechstein get away with it at all the Olympic Games, and World Championships, perfectly timing it days before any surprise out-of-competition tests? "No way," stated one senior four-star German Police officer with extensive airport surveillance experience, and one tour guarding the Deutsche Olympic Haus in Athens 2004. "No way."

One former NADA anti-doping CEO, Dr. Roland Augustin, stated, "My own personal experience in blood testing shows the problems here. I was at the FIS World Championship 2005 in Oberstdorf, and they needed a blood sample for a marker/test. I knew I had the flu coming on. They took my blood and measured my blood values, and the tester, Dr. Helmut Pabst, Head of the testing and sampling organisation PWC, smiled and said, 'First, you have the flu coming on and second, you're banned from competition. Your RET% is too high.' We had a laugh. I was the NADA CEO and I know I didn't do anything. In these cases now, the pool of athletes is increasing, so consequently, the greater the variety of data will be. The data now is not reliable enough (for statistical inference)."

More Problems Than Answers
"What this has really done is cause more problems. What will they do now? Pechstein will return to skating," stated one observer.

If Pechstein was doping, and then she quit doping, then her reticulyte levels would have flat-lined and returned to the statistical median within norms. It's never happened. So, we will see.

Are there many long-term medical longitudinal studies of reticulyte levels for women over 30 years of age in elite sports? Over 35? Under 20 years of age used in the courts? Apparently not. All age groups and nationalities are lumped into the same statistical pool for comparisons and determining variations.

One anti-doping authority raised the question: "Pechstein is 38 years old. What about the other 16-year-olds, and 17-year-olds whose reticulyte levels are more erratic than Pechsteins? Will they now prosecute them? If not, why not?"

Distinguished and award winning, politically and economic focused, German newspaper, Die Zeit, recently posted a new article (Saturday Edition) and on their Internet presence, Zeit Online, "Weitere Sportler mit affälligen Blutwerten" (More Athletes with Noticeable Blood Values) October 09, 2010. There are now more athletes with high, fluctuating, blood values as reported by Anja Berringer, Chief Legal Officer, NADA, and "not only with German athletes."

Barring any earth-shattering revelations, this movie is not over.

However, for now, Pechstein said, "I will now do everything possible to prevent the wrong that was done to me from being done to other athletes."

According to her web site, besides resuming training, Pechstein and her legal team are considering taking the issue to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.