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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

PED Testing Between Pool And Channel Swimmers

On April 1st, Donal Buckley reported on how the introduction of PED (performance enhancing drugs) by the World Anti-Doping Agency will affect all open water swimmers (read here).

Among the various issues Buckley raises, we wonder about how the different channel swimming associations will determine and manage the following issues:

1. Methodology of Collection
2. Selection of Testing Laboratories
3. Payment of Extra Costs
4. Custody of Information
5. Arbitration and Adjudication
6. Global Uniformity

1. Methodology of Collection

Buckley writes, "...Observers for the various Associations and Federations are currently or planned to be trained to take urine samples immediately post any swim with a registered association. This will obviously start with the big associations, Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation, Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, Gibraltar. The others will follow..."

So practically what does this mean for the channel swimmer?

Evan Morrison, board member of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, explains, "...Very simply: When you arrive on the beach at the end of your swim, exhausted, chafed, and possibly jellyfish-stung — you’d better be ready to pee in a cup. We will have personnel there to greet you as you emerge from the surf and escort you to the nearest toilet. No stopping to chat with friends and well-wishers; no posing for pictures; you must proceed directly to the toilet."
While these are the new rules and landscape in the channel swimmers, a handful who are in their 70's, we find the zealous efforts of the earnest officials to be more rigorous than what is currently done in the pool swimming world.

The typical channel swimmer - cold, tired and beaten by the harsh elements and long time in the water - has to hustle out of the water on such a memorable occasion of a successful channel swim, skip one-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities in order to go urinate in a cup. In contrast, the pool swimmer and professional marathon swimmer is treated more reasonably in our opinion. The channel swimmer cannot talk to anyone and must go straight to the toilet [at least in the case of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association]. On the shores of California where public beaches with ample restrooms are available, this is not much of a logistical problem. But on the rocks at Cap Gris Nez, at Portlock on Oahu after a Molokai Channel crossing, along the steep walls in the Cook Strait or Tsugaru Channel, or in Morocco at the Strait of Gibraltar, the logistical issues was a bit more of a challenge.

Additionally, while the swimmers who compete in the pool or on the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit, the FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix circuit, at the FINA World Swimming Championships, and at the Olympics can bask in the glory of their accomplishment and take their time to go through drug testing. They can get dressed, get, warm, drink fluids, eat some food, take photographs, acknowledge the crowds, remove their lanolin, talk to their coach, parents and teammates, greet the media, and warm-down a bit before being escorted off to go through drug testing. In many cases, they can even attend the awards ceremony if they swim to a podium finish.

This process among pool swimmers and marathon swimmers at the national level in each country and at international competitions seems reasonable to us. The procedures are, at time, strict yet flexible. The ultimate goal - to obtain an amount of urine to test for performance-enhancing drugs to still accomplished while the glory of the moment (finish) remains intact.

2. Selection of Testing Laboratories

It will be interesting to see what WADA-approved testing laboratories are selected by the different channel swimming associations and marathon swimming associations.

Observers will be trained to witness and confirm that the collected urine is untainted and remained sealed from collection point to testing laboratory. While this is not a difficult problem at major international competitions, either in the pool or open water, it does become more troublesome when a finish is completed in the middle of a storming night and the urine sample must be carried in an escort boat back across the channel or lake. 3. Payment of Extra Costs

In the case at international pool swimming or open water swimming competitions, athletes are selected at random to be tested. Every athlete is not tested. It would be too costly. Will that also be the case in the channel or marathon swimming organizations? Or will each and every individual who crosses a channel or lake be tested? Or will athletes be randomly selected. As one example, it must be a headache for the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation to absorb the cost of hundreds of drug tests handled over the course of an entire season. Who is maintaining this database? Who is paying for the drug testing costs and observer education and equipment (cups, holders): the swimmers or the association?

4. Custody of Information

Since the testing must be completed and the paperwork submitted and accepted by the governing bodies before the swim can be officially ratified, there may be significant delays in declaring a successful swim. Instead of instantly posting the good news of a successful swim on Facebook and Twitter once the swim has reached shore, will the proper thing to post be "Swimmer In Restroom" or "Pending PED Test Results"? Rather than a swimmer being shuttled off to a toilet, it seems so much more majestic when a swimmer finally crawls up on shore, raises their arms in triumph, beams to his escort crew with a broad smile across their face - and memorializes their triumph with videos and photos. Will those good ol' days just become a distant memory?

Also, will there be a central database of marathon swimmers who pass - or fail - their drug tests? Or will each channel governing body maintain their own information? And will that information be made public or will it remain private?

5. Arbitration and Adjudication
What happens with a positive test result? How will each governing body handle these cases? Will the information be made public or remain private? Will there be opportunities for arbitration and appeals? Will the athlete be temporarily or permanently banned from that particular channel - or will the athlete be barred from all channel swims in the world? For how long? Is there one final court of appeals? Will the decisions of the NYC Pro be respected by the Channel Swimming Association - and vice versa - in the instances where issues go to arbitration and adjudication?

6. Global Uniformity

Will this issue further create differences between channel governing bodies - or will the issue bring everyone closer together? At the end of the day, it appears on the surface that the motivation to cheat is greater among the young than the older. Because world-class pool swimmers are young professionals who compete for cash, sponsorship money, and global media attention that can transform their lives and livelihoods, we can see how some athletes and their coaches are motivated to blur the line between right and wrong, between competing honestly and competing unfairly.

We look upon with great interest how these various issues will play themselves out over the next few months as the channel swimming season in the Northern Hemisphere will soon start. It will also be very interesting to see the percentage of therapeutic exemptions between the pool swimming world, the professional marathon swimming community, and the channel swimming world (i.e., older athletes).

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming

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