Is there any illegal doping in amateur marathon swimming?

loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
edited July 2014 in General Discussion
Once upon a time I would have been naive enough to think not. But I've wondered this for a long time.

In the Pro circuit 201 Oly 10k Gold medal Ous Melloulli tested positive for amphetamines in 2007. Former world champ Dyachin was caught two weeks ago, and there's a website with a whole section dedicated to swimmer's positive drug tests.

Acceptable (within regulation) drugs are pretty common. I've used caffeine, asthma inhalers and NSAIDs (ibuprofen & paracetamol) myself. Like many other sports alcohol was also acceptable in the past though we now understand that it's actually an anti- swimming performance substance in cold water.

I've never seen or even heard of anyone using prescribed substances, but that doesn't mean it hasn't occurred.

People dope though for different reasons, money being the most obvious. But fame is it's own reward also and there are certainly substances which would improve endurance performance.

What are your thoughts? Have you seen or heard of anything suspicious?



  • Alcohol as a performance enhancer? How does that work?

    As long as jaffa cakes remain on the allowed list...
  • pavlicovpavlicov NYC USASenior Member
    I am new here (lurking for about a year) but from triathlon perspective, I believe anyone who is using testosterone cream because of age related drop and does not have official medical reason for it (more than just normal aging) is technically doping. I believe USAT requires athletes to submit request for exemption from the rules.
  • lakespraylakespray Senior Member
    This was an article in Outside Magazine written a while back on testosterone in amateur cycling.
    NOW I KNOW how Floyd Landis feels.

    A few years back, I had an idea for a magazine article: I'd profile an ordinary weekend athlete who cheats by taking performance-enhancing drugs. Although I found evidence of what I call citizen doping, I could never pin down someone who both fit the bill and would cooperate, so I decided to cut out the middleman and do the cheating myself. Under medical supervision, I took testosterone for about a year, even as I continued to train and compete as an amateur bike racer. I chose T, as it's sometimes called, in part because it was the same stuff Landis apparently used to win the 2006 Tour de France.
  • Kevin_in_MDKevin_in_MD Senior Member
    If we go by "illegal" as defined by the wada code, then yes there are people taking testosterone in amateur marathon swimming who are breaking the rules. As stated earlier, testosterone is covered by specific rules. a prescription from your doctor or simply having test results that show low testosterone aren't enough to get a therpeutic use exemption. And TUEs are not given for women to use testosterone period.

    So yes, I have no doubt that there are men taking testosterone supplements in marathon swimming.

    To take it a step further, if you are a member of a fina-member organization such as us masters swimming or whatever your nation's association is, then your organization is a signatory to the wada code and by taking those medicines you are breaking the rules.

    Now, usms specifically doesn't do drug testing though I think by the letter of the law any member of the federation is subject to in or out of competition at any time. USA cycling and USA triathlon have both recently started doing out of competition testing and gotten positives, it's my understanding that those are targeted - they have reason to believe that the person tested was suing banned PEDs. In one case the guy was a physician who runs an anti aging clinic.

    Of course, this doesn't really address whether any of those things SHOULD be illegal or whether the enforcement system that is setup is appropriate for amateur or masters swimmers. That's kind of another question.

    In short to answer the question, yes there are absolutely people in marathon swimming who are using PEDs as defined by the WADA code.
  • TheoTheo Oxnard, CAMember
    There are also people using drugs that are prohibited by WADA. Many older folks use hypertension drugs. Some of them are banned becuase they contain a diuretic that could be used as a masking agent but are not in and of themselves performance enhancing.
  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    yes there are absolutely people in marathon swimming who are using PEDs as defined by the WADA code.

    but does anyone think that marathon swimmers are breaking WADA code and taking drugs or doping to enhance their performance in an amateur event?
  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member
    gregoc wrote:
    but does anyone think that marathon swimmers are breaking WADA code and taking drugs or doping to enhance their performance in an amateur event?
    Yes! But I doubt it's as prolific as say cycling. My 49-year-old brother is an elite (yet very much amateur) mountain biker and he's doping for performance reasons, as are his friends. And they're not the least bit ashamed or concerned about it. Seems more about ego than personal accomplishment. Since our sport has more individual, man/woman-against-nature roots, I'd guess the types attracted are less likely to be oriented to that sort of behavior. But as our sport continues to evolve into the mainstream, I would expect that to increase as well.

    And then there's the recent explosion "legitimate" (or at least socially acceptable) hormone therapy. In my larger social circle, I'm starting to see some men getting into both testosterone use AND human growth hormone use. Without debating whether this is really "medical" treatment, it certainly has profound athletic advantages. I hear comments about going to the gym and having the stamina of an 18-year-old. Are they doing this "to improve their performance at an amateur event"? They're doing it to improve their performance in every event, including amateur competitions. It effectively pushes their "age" back 25 years, but they remain in the 50-55 age group. The good news is, the medically supervised HGH therapy is very expensive (I heard $30k+ annually--I didn't ask if insurance covered it, but it seems doubtful). So that's a pretty tall barrier to entry.

    And don't forget about the proliferation of A.D.D. medication. Most of these meds are Schedule 2 narcotic amphetamines. Huge performance enhancement (strength, stamina, cardio capacity and efficiency, fatigue threshold). If you have an amateur athlete already taking amphetamines on a daily basis, how easy would it be to succumb to the temptation to double up on race day?

    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • Kevin_in_MDKevin_in_MD Senior Member
    gregoc wrote:
    but does anyone think that marathon swimmers are breaking WADA code and taking drugs or doping to enhance their performance in an amateur event?

    Well, in the case of a male over 40 taking testosterone, where do you draw the line of enhancing their performance? There are many things affected by taking exogenous testosterone and apparently the definition of low testosterone has some fudge factors in it.

    But any way you slice it, is anyone doping in amateur marathon swimming? Yes I am confident there are some people who are, no I don't have any clue who might be or suspect anyone in particular. But I am quite confident that some people are.

  • AnthonyMcCarleyAnthonyMcCarley Berwyn, PACharter Member
    This entire chain makes me sad. Anyone who is “doping” for the purposes of marathon swimming is missing the point of marathon swimming.
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    @AnthonyMcCarley, I agree. However too often in the past I have found that my ideals (and yours) are not shared. I also didn't believe either cheating and/or hoax swims were a big deal in marathon swimming and I've (and others) been proven wrong there.

    So I'd prefer to know beforehand what other people might have heard or seen on this subject.

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member
    edited July 2014
    Back in the IMSA days there were a few swimmers busted for way excessive caffeine levels as well as beta blockers. I swam a few pro races as a hobby, which I supported first as a TGI Fridays waiter and then as a career government guy. It wasn't about the money for me, but a bunch of guys took the business side of it very seriously. Whatever it takes.
  • This is an ad in a regional outdoor sports mag. Note the "swim bike run" boarder circling the ad. Yes. I believe there is "doping" in amateur/age-group adult sports. However, I hope it is very limited in open water swimming.
  • That's just sad.
  • What on earth is the point of pitting yourself against nature if you can only do so by performance enhancing drugs, equipment & technologies? I would like to think nobody cheats like this in marathon swimming. Racing might be different. Mind you, for a good Mormon boy like me, even a coffee would be out of order............but actually we would make good test cases to see how even caffeine might boost our short term performance. But even those who drink it before and during a swim, don't concern me one bit. It is never about the other swimmers to beat, its only ever about the purity of the swim.
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited August 2014
    Fittish: Is Booze A Performance-Enhancing Substance For Ultrarunners?

    "It was a physical effect for sure," he said. "It's an anesthetic. I mean, there is discomfort in ultramarathons. Just as there's a risk of kidney damage when using anti-inflammatories in a race, there's a risk of drinking too much, falling and hurting yourself. So, as with anything that's masking pain, you have to use it judiciously."
  • msathletemsathlete Victoria, British Colubia, CanadaMember

    Wondering if anyone can point me to a banned substance list. I am hoping to work with kombucha this year to help manage my tummy issues but want to be sure it's not on the list. It has a wee bit of alcohol which I think is on the list.

    thanks kindly :)

  • JustSwimJustSwim Senior Member

    Alcohol is not banned in swimming by the World Anti-Doping Code. They have a long list of substances on their list. A quick search did not find kombucha but I might of missed it.
    Here is a link

  • lakespraylakespray Senior Member

    Being from the great state of Colorado, I remember reading this a year ago about the use of Marijuana in ultra distance running.

  • danswimsdanswims Portland, ORMember

    JustSwim said:
    Alcohol is not banned in swimming by the World Anti-Doping Code. They have a long list of substances on their list. A quick search did not find kombucha but I might of missed it.

    Alcohol actually is on the prohibited in competition list if you scroll down far enough. Kombucha would not be listed specifically but can have low levels of alcohol. So outside of competition it is not prohibited. During an event, well how picky do you want to be? Low alcohol 3.2% beer was deemed non-intoxicating and eventually became legal during prohibition. Kombucha appears to have from 0.5% to 1% alcohol. Metabolically alcohol is a high priority substance so one pretty much burns off that level of alcohol as fast as it is consumed.

    Being from Oregon, another legal weed State, I'll point out that Marijuana is also on the prohibited in competition list but thanks to it's affinity for fat sticks around for a long time so no leeway during an event and probably a goodly period of abstinence before an event where somebody cares. Remember the Michael Phelps bong photos? Embarrassment and potential for legal entanglement but no loss of medals or other competitive sanctions as it was outside of competition.

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member

    Doping for an amature race (excluding FINA/Olympic events) seems to be an incredible waste of time. 90% of marathon swimming (25K and up) happens between your ears. You're probably a DNF in life if you're sucking down amphetamines or beta blockers with your full length wetsuit so you can place in your local mile swim. There's no drug for willpower except for finishing.

  • msathletemsathlete Victoria, British Colubia, CanadaMember

    Thanks very much @justswim, @lakespray and @danswims! I will leave it off the list, although I was hoping to use it rather than some of the pharmaceuticals available such as Gravol, Stugeron and dramamine. I try so hard to not put drugs in my body. Kombucha (fermented tea) seemed like a viable alternative - it really seems to settle my stomach. Interesting how some of these things are classified.

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