American long jumper and sprinter Jarrion Lawson faces a lengthy ban after eating what he maintains was contaminated meat.
His agent, Paul Doyle, told The Associated Press on Friday that Lawson is expected to receive a four-year ban from the Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles doping issues in track and field. Doyle said they’ll appeal the soon-to-be-announced decision.
Lawson has been suspended since August. He’s considered a strong medal contender for next year’s Tokyo Games.
“I’m not going to willingly take punishment for something I didn’t do,” Lawson said in a phone interview.
Doyle said Lawson ate what they believe to be tainted beef at a Japanese restaurant in Arkansas before a drug test on June 2, 2018. Lawson was notified on Aug. 3 that he tested positive for a metabolite of the banned anabolic steroid trenbolone. The substance is frequently used in the U.S. to promote the growth of beef cattle. It also formed part of a steroid mixture used by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Before last summer, Lawson said he knew nothing about trenbolone. Now, he knows quite a bit about it. His “A” sample contained about 0.65 nanograms and his “B” sample about 0.80. Doyle noted that those who have tested positive for trenbolone have been in the range of 37 nanograms.
“It’s an impossible burden to prove because you don’t have a time machine to go back and test the beef,” Doyle said.
Lawson’s been a rising standout since he burst on the scene. During his last season at the University of Arkansas in 2016, Lawson became the first man since Jesse Owens in 1936 to win the 100, 200 and long jump at the same NCAA championships.
That summer, Lawson nearly captured Olympic gold in the long jump, but missed out on the top spot when he grazed the sand with his fingers just before landing. He finished fourth.
In 2017, he took second at the world championships.
Lawson hasn’t competed since the Diamond League meet in London on July 22, 2018, when he finished third in the long jump.
Since August, the 25-year-old Lawson has been splitting his time between working on the 100, 200 and his form for the long jump — all the while knowing his future remains uncertain. He’s not sure about U.S. championships later this summer or U.S. Olympic trials.
“They could’ve sought a two-year ban, which would have him back ready for the Olympic games potentially. But Jarrion and I agree he shouldn’t accept a two-minute ban because he did nothing wrong,” Doyle said.
Lawson has a credit-card receipt from the restaurant on the day he purchased a beef bowl. Doyle said they also have the beef supplier information and the company did use trenbolone.
“There’s a bias when there’s a negative drug test to automatically think whoever involved was doping. That’s not the case. There’s proof that’s not the case,” Lawson said. “I believe I’ll be back on the track here soon.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency’s board recently amended an article of its code that allows WADA-accredited labs to report “atypical findings” for the prohibited substance clenbuterol. Before that, labs were only allowed to report analytical testing results for exogenous prohibited substances as “adverse analytical findings,” which didn’t allow for investigations to take place when potential meat contamination scenarios occurred.
It doesn’t extend to trenbolone.
Doyle said they sent hair samples from Lawson to a French lab for testing and it came back negative for trenbolone. Doyle said that proves Jarrion is “not a habitual user of trenbolone.”
In a statement, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said: “We understand that the AIU did its job under the WADA rules given what we know about the case. The issue, however, is really whether the WADA rules are fair in these types of cases and we have certainly pushed for change so that cases with extremely low level positives that can come inadvertently from meat, water, nutritional products or prescription medications are not treated the same as cases where intentional, hardcore cheating is evident.”
Tygart added: “We were glad to see WADA change the rule in this regard with its recent decision on clenbuterol establishing a threshold for it and we will continue to push for more reform so that clean athletes are best protected.”
For now, Lawson’s plan is simple — keep training.
“It has felt like we’ve been climbing up the hill,” Lawson said. “But I’m staying optimistic.”
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