Peeing in front of strangers and having to account for your whereabouts at all times is a necessary part of the anti-doping testing regime that comes with being a top-level athlete. All you have to do is look at the situation world champion Lizzie Armitstead recently found herself in to know that missing tests can bring serious consequences. So what is it like to have to always be prepared to open up the door and produce a sample in front of a stranger? To find out we asked recently retired Orica-AIS cyclist, Chloe McConville, who first had to wrap her head around anti-doping tests at the self-conscious age of 15.
When I heard my doorbell go at 6 a.m. on a Tuesday last month my first thought was that our two huskies were causing havoc somewhere. As the bell rang again and I peeled my gym-sore body out of bed, my next thought was something had happened to the neighbours. I approached the front door and there were three middle-aged ladies standing there with and lanyards around their necks.
It wasn’t until I opened the door and finally the penny dropped, it was the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) rocking up at my nominated hour for out-of-competition drug testing. Considering I’m now retired from professional racing I had kind of assumed I would never be drug tested again. I emailed ASADA a few weeks ago saying I was no longer racing at the international level and received a reply saying if I intend on doing any racing domestically, even at club level, I would need to stay on the registered testing pool until ASADA deems me not worthy of testing anymore. Who knows how long this could be!
Being in the registered testing pool means you have to go through the whole process of logging whereabouts, which is a bit of a headache. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and ASADA have tried to make it easy with apps and the like but the reality is that its rather a stressful process particularly when you have travel plans that can change in an instant with cancelled flights, injuries, sickness etc. The most important detail that must go in for each day is a one-hour window of the exact location in the world where you are going to be, including the room number if you are staying in a hotel. I always chose early in the morning for testing, because more than likely I would be in bed in said room.
I can vouch for most athletes here when I say we have all had at least one day when you wake up and realise you completely mucked up your whereabouts and hope that ASADA haven’t knocked on your vacant door. I know riders who have recorded missed tests because of silly anomalies in their entry data. It’s easy to stuff it up when your mind is on other things like being jetlagged, stressed about an impending race or selection for Worlds. I guess that is why they give us three strikes in 12 months.
In saying that it’s a part of professional cycling that you have to build into your ‘job’. I would always have marked in my phone an alert to change my whereabouts when I was about to travel.
I, ‘touch wood’ have never had a missed test but in saying that I’m also probably not that high on the drug testing bodies radar; being a domestique and having relatively few personal results has its benefits! I have been tested in my career probably about eight times. Compare this to someone who is regularly winning races and this is probably how many times they are tested in a month. I have been on the Registered Testing Pool list of athletes for about two years, prior to this I would only get tested in competition.
Handling warm pee, funky lids and unimpeded views
From the moment you get notified you are going to be tested, whether in or out of competition, you are not allowed to leave the sight of the chaperone. Any cool downs, media requirements etc must all be done in the immediate presence of the chaperone. The urine testing procedure itself is a little confronting at first.
My first doping control happened when I was ski racing and was 15 and rather self conscious. I can remember psyching myself up for about an hour before I was ready to pee. You are instructed to have your pants below the knees and then pee in a pot in full view of a chaperone of the same sex. The chaperone needs to actually see the flow of urine exit your body as in the past there have been incidents of fake bits and hidden urine bags being used. It does get easier to do drug testing as you get older and probably a little less the prude!
After the sample is collected you are the only one who is allowed to touch it, not that anyone really wants to hold a pot of someone else’s warm pee. You are then instructed to choose a sealed kit which contains two empty bottles, and a tamper proof bag. All parts of the kit are labelled with numbers which need to be cross checked with what is written on the outside of the bottles and what is written on the sheet next to your name. The bottles have funky lids which basically have metal teeth on them so that when you seal it, there would need to be a special machine to open them up again.
You are instructed to pour most of your pee into the bottle labelled A, (it’s a challenge not to spill it on yourself especially when half asleep) and then the remaining in the bottle labelled B. The A and B indicate your A and B samples. The lids are then screwed on super tight and both are put into a bag that is then tamper proof sealed.
At this point you also answer a whole bunch of questions about any supplements and medications you are taking and whether you have anything to declare. There are certainly ample opportunities to confess any wrong doing.
It doesn’t matter that I know everything I have taken was completely 100% okay, I still get nervous thinking something might have been contaminated. It’s kind of like when you go past a police car with a radar, and you know you were doing the speed limit, but for the next five kilometres you keep looking in your rear view mirror!
At the end of the testing procedure, you sign paperwork and have the opportunity to write down comments about the testing, like if you felt it was not conducted in a manner you deem is professional or in a way that compromises your sample. The samples are then sent off to a lab for testing and stored for at least seven years. That way retrospective testing can occur when newer technologies come out. Your name is not known to the testers, all the information they have is your date of birth, sex and sport.
The whole procedure on Tuesday morning (including taking blood samples) was quick and took me 30 minutes, but I have had team mates who after racing and being dehydrated have been in doping control for over four hours.
Yeah, logging whereabouts and undergoing drug testing is both inconvenient and uncomfortable but it is a small price to pay to make sure we are competing on a level playing field. Given this I am happy to continue getting tested even in retirement, I will however be changing my allocated hour to 7am!