TADP (ITF) and USADA Q2 Quarterly Testing Reports

The Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (TADP) has issued its quarterly report for Q2 (April-June 2018). There are a few points to note:

(1) Starting with January 2018 the TADP employs a new sample storage policy. A select amount of samples collected under the TADP is placed into long-term storage at WADA-accredited laboratories for the purpose of future analysis. In the second quarter of 2018 a total of 687 samples (340 IC, 247 OOC) has been stored (which is a slight increase compared to the 665 samples that were stored in Q1).

(2) Starting with January 2018 as well a new system to file and apply for a TUE has been established. All TUE applications are now made through a TADP online TUE portal. Due to the increased efficiency the average processing time for TUE applications has been shortened to 1.8 days for the first half of 2018 (compared to 4.6 days in 2017). The amount of TUE applications has gone up significantly as well (32 compared to 22 in Q1).

(3) The total amount of samples collected under the TADP has been slightly increased in Q2. Worth noting is the still very small number of in-competition blood test samples collected (total of 20, same number as in Q1) and the fact that samples for the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) have only been collected on the women’s side during competition, whereas the reverse was true in Q1 (only samples collected on the men’s side).

(4) When compared to the total amount of samples collected under the TADP in Q2 of 2017 the numbers for Q2 of 2018 do look substantially better, however. The amount of OOC blood test samples has been almost quadrupled and the total amount of samples collected doubled. Although it’s still up to debate whether the way the TADP chooses to distributes its sample budget (i.e. focusing on urine tests over blood tests) is efficient and methodologically reasonable, at least the overall amount of effort spent on testing has been increased substantially.

For the sake of completeness I’ll list the USADA sample collection data for Q2 as well:

Athlete Name Test Count
Catherine Bellis 1
Madison Brengle 1
Robert C Bryan 2
John Isner 3
Madison Keys 1
Bethanie Mattek-Sands 1
Christina M McHale 1
Sam Querrey 1
Shelby Rogers 1
Dylan Scott 1
Jack Sock 1
CoCo Vandeweghe 1
Serena J Williams 2
Donald Young 1

 

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Wimbledon 2018 Discussion Thread

Amidst the controversy surrounding Serena Williams feeling “unfairly targeted” by anti-doping bodies and being seeded 25th despite being outside of the top 32 this year’s Wimbledon will be an interesting tournament to watch.

I have contacted the UKAD about any additional testing before or during the competition but unfortunately did not receive any response.

In other news, Roger Federer has parted ways with Nike and wears Uniqlo from now on. It’ll be interesting to see whether he’ll continue to talk amicably about Nadal now that they no longer share the same outfitter.

Study shows that episodic exposure to anabolic steroids might have long-lasting performance enhancing effects

Although this study was already released in 2013, I’ve only now heard about it for the first time. The study shows that there is a cellular muscle memory mechanism which aids subsequent re-acquisition of previously gained muscle mass even after long periods of inactivity. This so-called ‘muscle memory’ effect can also be observed if the previous gain in muscle mass was achieved while under the effect of anabolic steroids. Here are the two key points related to this finding:

  • When mice were briefly treated with steroids the muscle mass and number of nuclei increased. The drug was subsequently withdrawn for 3 months and the muscle mass returned to normal, but the excess cell nuclei persisted. When such muscles were subjected to overload they grew by 30% over 6 days while controls grew insignificantly.
  • Our data suggest that previous strength training might be beneficial later in life, and that a brief exposure to anabolic steroids might have long lasting performance-enhancing effects.

 

If those findings are accurate then they have significant ramifications on the effectiveness and validity of time-based exclusion penalties imposed on professional athletes for doping offenses. Any athlete that has used anabolic steroids at any point in his career will benefit from that usage for the rest of his professional career, well after the exclusion period has expired. This means that any time-based exclusion penalties for the use of anabolic steroids are more or less inconsequential in regards to the benefits gained from the usage of said substances (of course, the exclusion from competition itself still serves as a punishment for the athlete).

Here’s the link to the full study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3892473/

Here’s another more recent study which further examines the so-called ‘muscle memory’ effect: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-20287-3

 

French Open 2018 Discussion Thread

While the soon-to-be 32 year old Rafael Nadal is considered the favourite for the title on the men’s side, unseeded 36 years old Serena Williams (who is coming back from a two months break) aims to win her 24th Grand Slam.

Following the reluctance of the ITF to cooperate with the French NADO, the AFLD, at last year’s FO (see here for details) I’ve contacted the AFLD about the extent of the ITF’s cooperation for this year and any plans on conducting additional testing. Once (or if) I get a response I’ll update this article accordingly.

Fact checking Serena Williams’ claim of being tested “two times every week”

Just yesterday Serena Williams claimed that she gets tested for doping “two times every week”:

I went ahead and did some quick research whether this claim bears any credibility. Since Williams didn’t detail which time frame she’s referring to I’ll do both 2017 and 2018.

In 2017 the season lasted roughly 10 months, resulting in a total number of 80 tests both in competition and out of competition if we are to believe Williams’ claim (as no further specification regarding IC/OOC has been made). The per-player testing statistics for 2017 reveal that Serena Williams was tested 1-3 times both IC and OOC under the TADP during the 2017 season. If we are to assume that she was tested the maximum number of three times both IC and OOC this amounts to a total of six tests during the 2017 season. Note that these numbers do not include any samples collected by NADOs. If we add the number of tests that were conducted by the USADA (Q1 – 2, Q2 – 0, Q3 – 0, Q4 – 1) we end up with a grand total of 9 tests (at most) during the 2017 season, excluding any additional samples collected by a NADO that isn’t the USADA.

The 2018 season has been going on for 4 months and three weeks so far, resulting in a total number of 38 tests both IC and OOC if we are to believe Williams’ claim. Unfortunately, per-player testing data will only be available once the season is finished, making a fully accurate calculation impossible. However, we can extrapolate at least rough approximations. The Q1 TADP report shows that a grand total of 723 samples has been collected on the women’s side. The testing pool for 2017 included roughly 600 athletes on the women’s side. If we assume that the testing pool for 2018 has a similar size and further assume that Serena Williams was specifically targeted we get a number of at most 3 tests both IC and OOC. If we add the number of tests conducted by the USADA (Q1 – 3, Q2 – 2) we end up with a grand total of 8 tests (at most) during the 2018 season, excluding any additional samples collected by a NADO that isn’t the USADA.

In conclusion, the numbers implied by Serena Williams’ claim and the actual testing numbers don’t match at all. In fact it is fully warranted to call her claim demonstrably false. It is quite remarkable that despite the fact that the TADP is nowhere near as rigorous as she’s trying to portray it she still finds it noteworthy that she gets tested for the second time in a week (which, considering the numbers, has most likely been a first time occurence in this season).

Interview with doping expert Werner Franke about asthma medication in elite sport

Here’s a translation of an interview that has been published in DER SPIEGEL 15/2018 in which the molecular biologist Werner Franke gives insights into the ‘asthma situation’ and its potential relation to doping in professional sport.

Mr Franke, Tour de France winner Christopher Froome has been found to have more than twice as much as allowed by the regulations of the asthma drug Salbutamol in his system on a doping test. He claims to suffer from asthma. Do you believe him?

The Froome case shows the dilemma of the sport. It’s ovious that Froome doped with Salbutamol. The set threshold values are humbug. They only lead to professional athletes and their aides progressively approaching them. Sometimes this goes wrong, like in the Froome case.

Why would Froome have wanted to dope himself with Salbutamol?

Because it’s useful for him. Salbutamol aids with muscle growth, just like the related Clenbuterol. More than 100 scientific studies with animals have proven that. Australian doctors use Salbutamol before and after lung transplantations in order to strengthen the respiratory muscles. […]

Cycylists aren’t exactly mounds of muscle.

Besides muscle growth Salbutamol also helps with muscle sustainment and muscle regeneration. Furthermore it has two additional advantages: It reduces fat tissue, even below the skin. Just look at the veins of any cyclist. […] For endurance athletes every additional gram of fat is undesirable. Bodybuilders use Salbutamol before competitions.

What’s the other advantage?

The other advantage is the reason for which most people take it: For widening the bronchia. You’re no longer short of breath — a huge advantage.

If these asthma drugs are performance enhancing, why aren’t they prohibited entirely in professional sport?

Because the corrupt people in the sport want it that way. Remember the case of Katrin Krabbe in 1992? She took Clenbuterol. Since then there’s been plenty of talk but barely if any action.

At least athletes need to provide a medical certificate which proves that they’re suffering from asthma before they’re allowed to take Salbutomol in greater dosages.

There are always enough doctors that certify everything that helps their athletes’ performance. They are the accomplices of the frauds. Even Jan Ullrich allegedly had asthma. One of his doctors once told me in detail how such medical certificates are handled.

According to studies about 5 percent of the total population are suffering from asthma. Among elite athletes it’s 20 percent. This discrepancy is attributed to stress-induced asthma. Is competitive sports dangerous for the bronchia?

And swimmers get asthma due to chlorine water. Legends like that stick. [This explanation is, for instance, cited in this article from the Guardian. — ed.] There is but one explanation: Athletes use that condition for doping themselves. I am sure: Whoever gets asthma because of sports will stop doing sports.

How could this issue be resolved?

There should be two competitions: One for healthy athletes and one for those suffering from asthma. The problem would be: The latter group would be able to cycle much faster. The current situation is perverse. It shouldn’t be the case that healthy athletes are at an disadvantage compared to those allegedly suffering from asthma.

The Olympian team of Norway brought 6000 capsules of asthma medications for 109 athletes to Pyeongchang.

I’m not aware that anyone tried to investigate what these medications were used for. […]


 

It is reasonable to assume that pretended conditions such as asthma aren’t uncommon in tennis either. The benefits of Salbutomol described in the interview would be helpful for any athlete in an endurance-based sport. Any treatment for alleged asthma doesn’t even require a TUE. It would surely be interesting to see which tennis players are allegedly suffering from asthma (and receive medication for it). Unfortunately, no such data is (publically) available.

ITF 2017 Per Player Testing Statistics (Update)

The official player-by-player testing summary for 2017 has been released: 2017 per player testing summary

Here’s a summary of who was tested 7+ times both in and out of competition: 2017 per player testing summary, 7+ tests

As already known, the number of IC tests far outweighs the number of OOC tests (see here).

Some notable points:

  1. Novak Djokovic has been tested 4-6 times IC and 7+ times OOC despite missing large parts of the 2017 season.
  2. Serena Williams has been tested 1-3 times both IC and OOC despite only playing two tournaments and one exhibition match.
  3. There are some odd cases where players were tested 7+ times either exclusively IC or exclusively OOC.

This gives rise to further questions:

  1. What’s the criteria upon which increased testing of a given player is based? Is it merely based on the number of matches played or are other factors taken into consideration as well (e.g. oddities shown in urine tests or the Athlete Biological Passport)? (see the points 1 and 2 above and players such as Errani or Ferrer)
  2. What’s the criteria upon which the decision to test a given player more frequently either IC or OOC is based? (see point 3 above and a player such as Sharapova)
  3. If we’d know the then-current minimum testing rates for EPO and HGH as imposed by the WADA and also know that the TADP at least confirms to those, we could roughly estimate how often a given player may have been tested for those substances in 2017 (given that we also know the share of blood tests in the overall sample quantity).

I’ve contacted the WADA about the third question and will contact the ITF about the first two questions. I’ll keep you updated about any findings.

Update 05/03/2018: Two weeks have passed since I contacted the WADA and I’ve yet to receive an answer. The ITF replied almost immediately with their usual ‘confidential’ line. Apparently everything that isn’t already publicised on the TADP site is deemed confidential by the ITF. You’d only want to keep those details away from the public if it’d make the ITF appear in a bad light.

ITF 2017 Anti-Doping Statistics

The official TADP (Tennis Anti-Doping Programme) testing summary for 2017 has now been released. The per-player statistics are either still pending or no longer (publically) released.

These numbers include all players who hold an ATP or WTA ranking, or who enter or compete in events organised, sanctioned or recognised by the ITF. This includes Grand Slam tournaments, Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties, Olympic and Paralympic Tennis Events, ATP and WTA tournaments, ATP Challenger Tour tournaments, ITF Pro Circuit tournaments, ITF Junior events, ITF Seniors events, ITF Wheelchair events and ITF Beach Tennis Tour events. A total of 255 players are part of the testing pool for out-of-competition (OOC) testing. See here for the full list.

The discrepancy between the numbers of samples collected from men and women is mainly accounted for by samples collected from Challenger events, which are for men only. The statistics in the tables below do not include samples collected by National Anti- Doping Organisations (NADOs); ‘ABP’ refers to blood samples collected under the Athlete Biological Passport programme.

 

2017 Total samples Men Women
IC (urine) 3,081 1,854 1,227
IC (blood) 415 205 210
IC (ABP) 313 158 155
OOC (urine) 841 432 409
OOC (blood) 819 419 400
OOC (ABP) 824 420 404
Totals 6,293 3,488 2,805

If we compare these numbers to the ones from 2016, we see an increase in total number of samples collected by 28,5%. Specific increases can be found for in-competition urine testing (55%), IC ABP testing (86%), OOC urine testing (33%) and OOC ABP testing (24%). The numbers of samples collected specifically for blood testing, however, have gone down by 39% (IC) and 32% (OOC). The total number of blood samples collected (both regular and as part of the ABP) has increased by 72% (IC) and decreased by 12% (OOC).

In summary, the overall numbers have improved compared to 2016 in every possible regard except for out-of-competition blood testing (albeit not significantly). It should be noted, however, that blood testing is widely regarded as the only kind of regular testing by which it is possible to detect more advanced types of PEDs; therefore the increase in urine testing (both IC and OOC) should not be equated with a correspondingly increased effectiveness of the programme. Furthermore, it is up to debate whether blood samples collected as part of the Athlete Biological Programme may have the same merit as regularly collected samples.

The summary also includes a paragraph about TUEs which I’ll quote directly:

A total of 120 applications for a TUE were received under the Programme in 2017. Of these, 64 (53%) were granted, 14 (12%) were denied, and 29 (24%) were for substances and/or routes of administration that were not prohibited.
The remaining 13 (11%) were either cancelled (e.g. for a failure to provide further information on request) or withdrawn by the applicant. The average time from receipt of a fully-completed application to its grant or denial in 2017 was 4.6 days.

Here’s the full report:

TADP 2017 Quarterly Report Q4/17