In January of 2006 United States Skeleton competitor Zach Lund was at the peak of his career. He was ranked number one in the world and was the obvious favorite to win the gold medal at the olympic games the next month in Turin, Italy. Unfortunately, it was at this time that he received devastating news. He had tested positive for a banned substance.
The banned substance was finasteride. Finasteride is the active substance in the drug Propecia, which is commonly used to combat male pattern baldness. Lund was predisposed to male pattern baldness and had been using Propecia for seven years in an effort to delay the loss of his youthful head of hair for as long as possible. When he received the bad news he was confused – he didn’t know what finasteride was. When he figured out that it was the active ingredient in his balding medication he was even more perplexed, yet he surely figured that this misunderstanding could be easily resolved.
Only very recently had the world anti-doping agency (WADA) added finasteride to their list of banned substances. The reason was not because finasteride offered any performance enhancing benefits, but because its use threw a wrench in the testing methods that the doping chemists used to detect various anabolic steroids. Finasteride blocks an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase which is involved in the metabolism of a variety of steroids. Because of this, the use of finasteride could muddy up the detection of certain steroids and potentially result in a steroid positive urine sample being misidentified as steroid negative. So by adding finasteride to the list of prohibited substances as a “masking agent”, WADA could conveniently solve this dilemma.
Unfortunately, finasteride – as the active ingredient in propecia – had for years been a commonly used medicine by men like Lund who were concerned about hair loss. Guys like Lund don’t know what finasteride is, nor do they have the ability to comb through every update of the banned substances list to match esoteric chemical names to things that might be in their bathroom cabinet. And it’s not like WADA made any effort to make sure athletes were aware of this new addition to the list – as far as they were concerned that’s the athletes problem, not theirs.
WADA demanded a two year suspension for Lund’s finasteride positive. Even though Lund was not aware that finasteride had been added to the list he still had been reporting for several years to the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation all the drugs he was taking, including Propecia. Obviously if Lund’s intention was to take steroids and evade detection he would not have been so open about his use of the balding medication.
After some wrangling with USADA, WADA, and the court of arbitration Lund was able to get his punishment reduced to a one year suspension. Still, Lund missed out on his opportunity to take home olympic gold.
Lund never regained is prominence in the sport of skeleton after his doping drama. Although he competed in the 2010 winter olympics in Vancouver he failed to win a medal. And finally, in a cruel twist of irony, in 2009 WADA removed finasteride from the list of prohibited substances.
Hope Solo is the goaltender for the United States women’s soccer team. The U.S. team has achieved enormous publicity in recent years with their gold medal victory in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and their heartbreaking shootout loss to the Japan team in the finals of the FIFA World Cup in 2011. Girl’s Soccer in the U.S. is huge, and as the most recognized member of Team USA Solo has a huge fan base – especially among young athletic females who look up to her adoringly as a role model. It’s no shocker that sponsors have taken notice of this, and many millions of dollars of advertising money have been made off of the women soccer team phenomenon – with Solo at the center of it all.
So it had to be a moment of panic for all concerned on June 15th when it was discovered that Solo had tested positive for a banned substance – the diuretic Canrenone.
Diuretics are banned for two reasons. First and foremost, they can be used to dilute urine and therefore mask the presence of other controlled substances. Secondly, they can be used to quickly lose weight which can be an advantage in sports where “making weight” is an issue, or in sports where being light and agile are an advantage. [soccer goaltender??]
Like Lund, Solo claimed that the drug was in her system as the result of a medication she was taking. In this case it was a medicine to help alleviate the discomforts associated with pre-menstrual syndrome. The situation with Solo however developed quite differently than the situation with Lund did. After cooperating with USADA, it was agreed that Solo had made an “honest mistake”, and she received a simple public warning. She was allowed to continue to participate in soccer matches, and most importantly she will be able to goaltend for Team USA at the London Olympics.
Gatorade won’t have to worry about blowing their multi-million dollar deal with Solo and there won’t be disillusioned little girls sadly removing Hope Solo posters from their bedroom walls. All remains well in the land of the free.