Can Hair Analysis Help Boxing Clarify Clenbuterol Contamination Claims?

001Can Hair Analysis Help Boxing Clarify Clenbuterol Contamination Claims?

By Gabriel Montoya


In the past two months, two boxers have tested positive for clenbuterol. Both men, WBA heavyweight regular titleholder Lucas Browne and WBC super featherweight titleholder Francisco Vargas, were part of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) third party program when their A samples came up positive for clenbuterol. Both men contend that their positive results, occuring in two separate countries, were due to ingesting clenbuterol-contaminated beef. They also both share a way to exonerate their names of any intentional wrongdoing that has been either overlooked or ignored by their representatives, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) and VADA: hair testing.


According to the World Anti-Doping Agency Code, there is no allowable limit for Clenbuterol as it is not a naturally occuring substance in the body. Therefore, when an athlete tests positive, he is subject to Strict Liability, according to WADA Code.


What is Strict Liability? Its essentially means that an athlete is responsible for what is found in his body, regardless if it is through no fault of their own.


From WADA’s website, “The principle of strict liability is applied in situations where urine/blood samples collected from an athlete have produced adverse analytical results. It means that each athlete is strictly liable for the substances found in his or her bodily specimen, and that an anti-doping rule violation occurs whenever a prohibited substance (or its metabolites or markers) is found in bodily specimen, whether or not the athlete intentionally or unintentionally used a prohibited substance or was negligent or otherwise at fault.”


Once an athlete tests positive under WADA’s jurisdiction, they have limited options. They can test the B sample and hope the result comes back negative. However, since the A and B samples are simply the same sample divided, that is unlikely. An athlete could also attack the sample collection process. Or he can conduct his own independent investigation into the food he ate, the location, and origin of the food in question. A risky and likely expensive proposition. But none of those avenues can address whether or not the athlete had intent to cheat or not.


However, there is another option that potentially can exonerate both men of that: Testing of their hair samples for Clenuterol.


If the intent to cheat is in question, testing the athletes hair sample may give a more accurate reading of how long Clenbuterol has been in the athletes’ system. Why? Because Clenbuterol is excreted over time through hair. The window of drug detection in blood and urine samples can be hours and days. In hair, “a drug detection window can be up to weeks, months, even years,” according to one study.  In 2010, German table tennis player Dimitrij Ovtcharov tested positive for Clenbuterol and was later exonerated after he had his hair tested.


With testosterone testing cases, there is the initial T/E ratio test that measures testosterone to epitestostrone. WADA Code allows for a 4:1 limit. If an athlete has a T/E ratio over that limit, a confirmatory Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR/CRMS) test is conducted to determine the presence of exogenous testosterone.


In the case of a Clenbuterol positive, a hair test could serve as a valid confirmatory test for Clenbuterol abuse. If an athlete truly tested positive due to food contamination, the level in a hair sample will show that with a low concentration. A normal range and comparison study of Clenbuterol in hair samples was established in an August 2014 study entitled “Statistical significance of hair analysis of clenbuterol to discriminate therapeutic use from contamination.”

Both Vargas and Browne had urine samples tested by VADA come back negative prior to their positive A samples. It makes sense in cases where there are claims of Clenbuterol contamination to use hair testing to possibly determine the length of Clenbuterol exposure. A determination that may establish whether there was an intention to cheat or not.

Gabriel Montoya is live every Monday & Wednesday on “The Next Round” and “Leave it in the RinG” podcasts . He can also be reached via twitter @Gabriel_Montoya .

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