The Sun Yang Doping Case: Chapter Two Of An Olympic Champion

Sun Yang

By Steven V. Selthoffer, Swimming World Chief European Columnist

BONN — The recent Antidoping Report released from FINA stated that Sun Yang, has had a “Doping Offence” from “an in-competition test conducted by the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency (CHINADA) on May 17, 2014, at the Chinese National Championships testing positive for Trimetazidine (Class S.6.b Specified Stimulant).”

We should be mindful that according to sources, Sun apparently had been suffering from chest pains. The medication Sun received containing trimetazidine was for “angina pectoris” which is improper contractivity of the heart muscle and/or coronary heart disease, or a problem with blood vessels that causes the chest pain.

Consequently, Sun was stripped of his first-place finish in the 1500 free at Chinese nationals. It also made clear that he was given and had already served a three-month ban from swimming. Sun’s doctor, Ba Zhen, was given a one year ban from sports starting on the same date. It all seems well and good for China, punishing those responsible including Sun’s entourage.

Zhao Jia, Deputy Director of CHINADA, stated: “Sun had proved with sufficient evidence that he did not intent to cheat, which helped reduce his ban to three months.” Zhao further elaborated that “His failure to inform the doping control official should be punished all the same.” (Read more here)

Whether or not Sun Yang was using trimetazidine for medical reasons, this case needs to be placed into a clearer context to better understand the issues at stake.

The crux of the story is this: If Sun went to his doctor a few days or anytime before the competition and properly took his medication, that is fine. He is NOT in violation of the anti-doping rules for taking a medication containing Trimetazidine the days before the competition.

But, then he swam in the Chinese National Championships after he took his medication. The anti-doping authorities conducted an in-competition doping test after his race. All good. All correct. But, consequently, that in-competition doping test picked up the Trimetazidine, producing a positive IN-COMPETITION test, therefore Sun was disqualified for doping and given a three-month ban.

There were no thresholds in place to protect an athlete from the trace amounts in his system.

Thresholds should be in Place
Dr. Klaas Faber, CEO of Chemometry in the Netherlands says, “Given the Banned List, there should be safeguards in place, namely thresholds. Why? Because the labs report what they are asked to report i.e., the identity of substances, leaving out the possibility of the exonerating part of the evidence- the concentration.”

Faber is considered one of the top minds in anti-doping and one of Europe’s leading criminal chemical forensic specialists. Faber has been studying the CAS cases and watching the legal carnage destroy the lives of innocent athletes around the world as athletes pay the price for WADA’s, CAS’ or a sport federation’s learning curve.

The question is: Should Sun be viewed as a doping cheat? I don’t think anyone should rush to judgment against Sun in this case until all the evidence is collected and weighed in by WADA from his doctor, CHINADA, and the Chinese Swimming Federation.

Delay In Reporting and Media Uproar
Because of what many view as an apparent three-month delay in reporting the doping offense, instead of instantly or within 20 days by CHINADA or the China Swimming Federation, numerous stories are being reported in the media about the incident around the globe by organizations that normally would not cover swimming.

News organizations are weighing in about possible irregularities from all angles, polls are being created and conducted and many others are now calling into question Sun’s character and other performances such as those at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Deputy Director Zhao defended the process, saying: “We announce positive cases and test statistics in our quarterly reports as WADA requires.”

The media revelations combined with unbridled global hypothesizing are gradually building into a Category 5 Poo-nami. That storm hit land when Australian Swimming recently took action to ban Sun Yang from training in Australia effective immediately.

Trimetazidine Will Be Reclassified in 2015
Ben Nichols, WADA Senior Manager of Media Relations, informed Swimming World concerning the banned substance Trimetazidine in the case of Sun Yang. When asked about the banned substance Trimetazidine (Class S.6.b Specified Stimulant) in the Sun case, Nichols wrote “to clarify, under the current list, Trimetazidine is currently prohibited in-competition only until the end of 2014. For the 2015 List, you will see it has moved (to) section S.4.5.”

Nichols further helped clarify the current situation by adding a section of the “Code In-Competition, S6 Stimulants. Some drugs that metabolize… are reclassified because they are now recognized as less likely to be used as doping agents: cathinone… and trimetazidine…

Essentially, trimetazidine has been reclassified and downgraded. As of January 1, it will not be on the banned stimulant list.

Trimetazidine will be moved from a S.6 Stimulant to S.4 Modulator. “Trimetazidine was originally included in S.6.b. based upon the similarity of its chemical structure to some of the listed Stimulants,” according to WADA information. “It has been moved to the newly created sub-section S4.5.c as it is pharmacologically classified as a modulator of cardiac metabolism.”

Inconsistent Anti-Doping Rules Threaten Athletes
Whether Sun Yang is innocent or not, the fact remains that he broke the current rules. But many athletes face “grossly inconsistent anti-doping rules,” according to Dr. Klaas Faber.

Faber has pointed out for years the necessity to establish thresholds for all substances detected so as to avoid any inadvertent positive doping cases.

Faber has also pointed out the inconsistencies in banned substances in which some substances are banned in-competition, but, not outside competition. Faber has detailed some of these observations published in the Science and Justice Journal, “A Plea for Thresholds, i.e., Maximal Allowed Levels for Prohibited Substances to Prevent Questionable Doping Convictions,” Michael Burke, USA, Klaas Faber, NED, April 13, 2011.

It should be noted that John Ruger, U.S. Olympic Committee Ombudsman, Tackling Doping in Sport, Global Conference, March, 2013, in the UK stated, “between 40% to 60% of positive test doping results were inadvertent (non-deliberate) cases.” (Source: “Lee Chong Wei a Victim of Inconsistent Anti-Doping Rules,” by Dr. Klaas Faber, The Malay Mail Online.)

In many cases like these, the athlete is punished and accomplishments become questionable in the eyes of many resulting in the athlete being unjustly tainted for life. Sun Yang is likely to face this for the remainder of his swimming career.

Large Procedural Discrepancies
It was reported that a WADA spokesman said on November 26 that the agency had not received full details of the case, while the World Anti-Doping Code says drug violations must be made public within 20 days, reports Xinhua.

That’s important to understand. Here we have a discrepancy between the Vice Deputy of the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency saying they are in compliance with WADA reporting the Sun doping offense on a quarterly basis, and WADA saying it should be made public within 20 days. Those combined with other elements are possible grounds for WADA to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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