October 30, 2006

Starts and Finishes

Happy Halloween!

Today the COC announced that I have been appointed Assistant Chef de Mission for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Fortunately for our athletes, the job doesn't involve any cooking. The Chef de Mission is Sylvie Bernier, an Olympic champion and Assistant Chef for the 2006 winter Olympics. As spelled out in the Olympic Charter (PDF), Rule 38:

During the Olympic Games, the competitors, officials and other team personnel of each National Olympic Committee are placed under the responsibility of a chef de mission appointed by her National Olympic Committee and whose task, in addition to any other functions assigned to her by her NOC, is to liaise with the International Olympic Committee, the International Federations, and the Organizing Committee of the Games.

My job will be to, well, assist Ms. Bernier in this role. I am really, really excited and at the same time a little bit awed by the responsibility.

I will say, though, that I feel quite proud to have been selected. Sylvie did not name any of the other candidates that she considered for the position, but I am sure that there were a number of very worth candidates. I like to think that all of the volunteer work I have done and experience I have gained in the last six years counted in my favour. I think of this new job as the next level of my volunteer career in Canadian sport, and I am really looking forward to it.

On a sadder note, I've decided to go into blogging semi-retirement until after the Games.

Partly this is because of the increased time commitment that I will have to make as assistant chef. The job will require more time away from home and more hours of work, and those extra hours will be subtracted from the time I usually spend working on this blog.

More importantly, however, this change of status is also going to put new limits on what I can write about.

I want to make it perfectly clear that these limits are self-imposed. This is my own personal decision, and not something dictated to me by the COC. I have been very open about my blog with Sylvie Bernier, and I know that many people within the COC are aware of my identity. They have all been cautiously supportive of the idea that their new assistant chef is also a blogger, and I think that shows a remarkable degree of trust on their part.

There has always been a Do Not Write list on Now That's Amateur. There are things I Do Not Write about because I would be revealing information that has been entrusted to me, in confidence. There are things I Do Not Write about because I have to maintain an impartial stance on an issue. And there are things I Do Not Write about because to do so would undermine the consensus opinion of the groups that I serve as a volunteer.

In my new role I will be one of the leaders of the Canadian Olympic team. I will represent the team to the media, to the Canadian public, and to the rest of the world. Last week I came to the difficult realization that my Do Not Write list is about to get quite long. So long, in fact, that it excludes most of my favourite topics of discussion. I will still have plenty of opportunity to express my views, both publicly and privately, in places where it will have a concrete influence. The trade-off for that influence is that I cannot continue to make those expressions in this forum.

I also want to avoid the possibility that this blog, or my opinion, could become the centre of media attention because of my position. I think that would be regrettable. For the past two years I have tried to provide a different perspective on some of the stories of the day. I do not want my perspective to become the story of the day. Attention should be focused where it belongs, on the Olympic team itself.

As to what's going to happen in this space, I am not quite sure yet. At the very least, I will return when the Games are over, with new insight into the Olympic movement and the freedom to discuss it with you. In the meantime, I hope to turn this blog over to a team of guest contributors. Whether this comes to pass or not, I want to thank all of you who have been reading over the past two years. Blogging has broadened and deepened my understanding of amateur sport, what it means to me and what it means to others. Your blogs, your e-mails and your comments have been part of that journey. Hopefully we can pick up where we left off in September 2008.

October 29, 2006

Two Years of Being Amateur

Two years ago today I started this blog, and I wanted to say a few words about that.


I wrote 116 posts in the past year, down twenty from my first year of blogging. Here are some of my favourites.

All Traffic for Now THAT's Amateur (Statcounter.com)

Last week I very nearly had my first week with more than 1000 unique visitors, according to StatCounter, thanks to a link from Trust But Verify and a mention in the Daily Peleton Forums. That's not typical, as you can see in the plot above, but the general trend is upward and fairly steady. The 2006 Winter Olympics generated three or four weeks of pretty good traffic, and my post about Michelle Dumaresq got a link at There's Your Karma, Ripe as Peaches.

These numbers don't include people who read this blog at Cansport.com.


Haloscan tells me that this blog has a total of 439 comments. There were 103 in the first year, which must mean that there have been 336 in the second year. You can assume, again, that almost half of those have been by me, since I tend to get drawn into the discussions.

The post that generated the largest number of comments was my second post on the 2014 Halifax Commonwealth Games bid, I'll stop the HRM Games, Because I Know What's Good For You. That post has drawn 33 comments so far.

Other Developments

On the technical front, I switched to te Beta version of the new Blogger and had a few adventures with my template. In the end, though, that's been a very positive change.

On my one-year anniversary, I annnounced that this blog was going to be cross-published at CanSport.com. One year later, it's clearly been a positive development for the blog, and I think it has had a lot to do with the increase in traffic and the increase in the number of comments.

In the comments to this post, James Dunaway told me that without my real name attached, my writing has "zero credibility." I later had a short e-mail exchange with Mr. Dunaway, who has written extensively about athletics as an author and a journalist.

I had planned to write more about the issue of identity and credibility on my two-year anniversary. However, for various reasons I am going to cut that discussion short. I have added my real name to my Blogger profile, and it now appears in the sidebar to this page. I do not consider this an admission that Mr. Dunaway was right, although I will say that several other people I have spoken to have taken his side in the debate!

The reason for my decision doesn't have anything to do with credibility, which I still think should be based on the writing and not on my name. This decision is about accountability. My role in the Olympic Movement is about to change, becoming significantly more public. In light of this news (which will be clarified tomorrow), I have decided that my past writing should be a matter of public record.

As for my future writing, I will have more to say about that after tomorrow.

Why False Positives Mean So Much

Why do some people believe that Floyd Landis is innocent, while others believe that he is guilty? Why do the same people reach the opposite conclusions about Barry Bonds, or Marion Jones?

Let's talk about Bayesian Inference. Bayesian Inference is a mathematical approach that can be used to estimate how evidence influences belief in a hypothesis.

The basis of Bayesian Inference is an equation known as Bayes' Rule, which is widely applied in the study of probability. Bayesian Inference is the somewhat controversial application of Bayes' Rule to discussions of belief. In Bayesian Inference a person's degree of belief in a hypothesis is treated mathematically as if it was an estimate of the probability of the hypothesis.

Rather than go through the general background, I'll leave you to the Wikipedia article and get right to our specific example. In this case, the hypothesis in question (which I'll call H) is that an Athlete is guilty of doping. The hypothesis is either true or false, but the truth is usually not known with one hundred percent confidence. The evidence in the case (E) will be the results of anti-doping tests. The quantity that I want to calculate is a person's degree of belief in H in the face of the collected evidence E.

To do this we need to know three things. First, we need to quantify the person's prior belief in the athlete doping hypothesis. That is, what probability would you assign to the hypothesis before the presentation of the anti-doping test results? I'll denote the prior belief by P(H).

The other two quantities we need to know concern the conditional probabilities of the evidence. We need to know the probability that the evidence would arise if the athlete was guilty, which we might call the probability of detection (PD). We also need to know the probability that the evidence would arise if the athlete was innocent, which we might call the probability of false positive (PFP).

The posterior belief in H — in other words the probability of H being true after the evidence has been taken into account — is written as P(H | E), and can be calculated as:

   P(H | E) = PD × P(H) / [PD × P(H) + PFP × (1 – P(H))]

The following calculator allows you to enter these three inputs as percentages, and calculates your revised belief in the doping athlete hypothesis.

The Doping Athlete Bayesian Inference Calculator
P(H): Prior belief, before you saw evidence E, that Athlete was doping: %
PD: Probability that evidence E would be found against a doping athlete: %
PFP: Probability that evidence E would be found against an athlete who is not doping: %
Revised Belief that Athlete is Doping: %

Let's look at a hypothetical example. Let's say there's a positive test in a sport where you have reason to believe that 10% of athletes are doping. And let's say that the test that the athlete has failed is known to be 60% effective in detecting cheaters. And finally, let's say that the probability of a false positive is 0.1%. If we put these three numbers into the calculator we find that our revised belief in the athlete's guilt has risen to 98.5%. That's probably more than enough to meet the burden of proof in an anti-doping case.

In fact, as long as the probability of false positives is low, the other parameters really don't make much difference to the outcome. For example, consider the case where PFP = 0.01%, equivalent to one false positive test result out of every 10,000 tests. Then even if the prior belief of guilt is only 1%, and the probability of detection is only 20%, the posterior belief of guilt is greater than 95%. If we take this to the extreme case where there is zero probability of a false positive, then the posterior belief of guilt will always be 100%!

You can try some examples for yourself, and you will see that the weight of the evidence in the case depends very strongly on the probability of false positives. This number must be kept small if we want to treat positive tests as conclusive.

Now, what happens if you really would rather not modify your belief based on the new evidence? Is there any way, in the face of a positive anti-doping test, that you can go on believing in your favourite athlete's innocence?

Bayesian inference does allow for this possibility, if the evidence is poor enough; and in fact the mathematical treatment defines for us what "poor enough" means. If the test's probability of false positive rises, or the probability of detection sinks, to the point where both are equal, then the posterior belief in the athlete doping hypothesis will be exactly equal to the prior belief.

In most doping cases, the public receives very little hard information about the reliability of the evidence; neither PFP nor PD are well-known. In the Landis case, for example, anti-doping authorities were quick to state that the chances of a false positive on the IRMS test are very small. Many of Floyd's fans still doubt that claim.

If anybody out there tries this calculator for the Landis case or any other, let me know in the comments. I'd like to hear your assessments of your prior belief and the conditional probabilities, and to see if the Bayesian inference of posterior belief at all matches with your actual belief.

October 26, 2006

Morning Finals, and That's Final

It was basically confirmed weeks ago, but now it's official: all of the swimming and most of the gymnastics finals at the 2008 Olympics will be held in the morning, Beijing time.

Scott at Timed Finals has been all over this story, and I've expressed my opinion before, too. I don't want to go over old ground, but I have had a few more recent thoughts.

I've been a bit skeptical about predictions that the schedule change will cause performances to suffer, and I said so in the comments at Timed Finals. Scott sent me a couple of interesting and swimming-specific links in response:

Influence of time of day on all-out swimming, British Journal of Sports Medicine, C. Baxter and T. Reilly (1983):

Fourteen subjects performed maximal front crawl swim tests on separate days over 100 m. and 400 m. at 5 different times of day between 06.30 h. and 22.00 h. Performance showed a significant linear trend with time of day in close though not exact association with the circadian rhythm in oral temperature … It was concluded that maximal swimming trials are best scheduled for the evening and worst in the early morning.

Morning vs. Evening Maximal Cycle Power and Technical Swimming Ability, Journal of Strength and Conditioning, V.J. Deschodt and L.M.Arsac (2004):

… maximal power (+7%) and technical ability (+3% in stroke length, +5% in stroke rate and changes in underwater hand coordinates) were greater in the evening. The present study confirms and specifies diurnal influences on all-out performances with regard to both maximal power and technical ability.

I'll consider myself rebutted! It seems that Scott and others are right to worry that performances will be a bit off in Beijing. Of course times and world records are a big deal in swimming, because the environment can be tightly controlled and the times are a reliable indicator of the quality of a performance.

One consequence of this fact is that the FINA Olympic qualifying procedures rely heavily on time standards. Those time standards must be achieved at Continental Championships, national Olympic trials, or other international competitions approved by FINA in advance. So if you're organizing your national Olympic trials, do you try to mimic the Beijing schedule so that you test your swimmers under Olympic conditions, and give them every opportunity to get used to it? Or do you stick with evening finals, giving everybody a better shot at making the FINA time standards?

The schedule changes are given a brief mention in the latest IOC press release, but there are few details forthcoming. There's also no mention of specific changes to other sports. According to some earlier reports out of Australia rowing finals are going to be held in the evening. That's an unprecedented change, as far as I know. Will it mean faster times for the rowers? Maybe, but it probably won't have much to do with basal temperature or circadian rhythms. In rowing, like canoe-kayak, the dominant factor is the wind. Whether conditions will be better or worse in the evening remains to be seen.

October 24, 2006

Gold Medal Plates

Last Tuesday night my wife and I attended a fundraiser called Gold Medal Plates. The series kicked off in Halifax and will be held in six other cities across Canada in November. The Halifax event was very well-attended and raised a good chunk of money for the Canadian Olympic Foundation, which will direct the proceeds toward Own the Podium 2010 and Road to Excellence.

The event is a clever mixture of sport and haute cuisine. Eight of the city's best chefs were paired with high-profile local athletes (an Olympian or Paralympian or Olympic hopeful) and charged with preparing their "ultimate chef's creation." For $225 per ticket, attendees could taste those creations, sample Canadian wines, and schmooze with Olympians and other sports VIPs. While enjoying dessert and coffee guests were treated to speeches by two of Canada's top athletes, and given the opportunity to spend more of their money on silent or live auction items. The finale of the evening was the awarding of bronze, silver, and gold medals to the winning chefs. In the 2004 edition of this event, the paying guests voted for their favourite dish. This time, the winners were chosen by a panel of expert judges.

Not having been assigned to a chef, I was free to wander around, tasting everything and doing some schmoozing myself. I know it's kind of shallow (possibly pathetic) to say so, but I still find it fun to wear a name tag that says "Olympic Athlete."

The athletic guests of honour, meanwhile, were excellent. Sledge hockey gold medallist Paul Rosen and two-time Olympic champion Catriona Lemay Doan gave powerful speeches about their own experiences at the Paralympic and Olympic Games.

(As an irrelevant aside, I remembered during dinner that one of the first photographs I ever saw on the Internet was a picture of Catriona Lemay at the 1994 Olympics. It's pretty amusing to go back and see what the first Olympic Games web site looked like just twelve years ago.)

The culinary star of the evening was Chef Ray Bear, who was teamed up with canoeist Mike Scarola. I was not surprised that the chefs appeared to be quite engrossed in the culinary competition. I was a little bit surprised that the chefs got behind the fundraising effort as strongly as they did. After winning the gold medal, Chef Bear offered a nine-course meal, cooked in your home, for auction. He and Scarola ended up selling two such meals for the cause.

October 23, 2006

Stone Cast: Olympian Struck

Three-time Olympian and world championship silver medallist Tamas Buday Jr. needed three stitches to repair a cut below his left eye on Saturday. Buday was hit by a rock thrown from a railway bridge across the Credit River while he and his brother Attila were paddling in Mississauga.

Tamas Buday (Toronto Star)

Tamas (a very young teammate of mine in 1996) is extremely lucky that the damage was not more serious. He is lucky that he was paddling in C-2, and therefore didn't go into the water. He is lucky that he was accompanied by his coach (also his father), which isn't true for every workout. And he is lucky that the rock struck him a relatively glancing blow and did not do more permanent damage.

The young morons who perpetrated this crime were chased off by Tamas Sr. The Buday brothers made some solicitous comments in the Star article, suggesting that the youths are "just kids" who "don't understand the consequences" of their actions. According to an e-mail I received this morning, their delinquency goes a bit further than the usual restlessness of youth:

… probably we scared enough the guys that they felt to respond: Today morning the two north door of the canoe club was full with graffiti including a bunch of swastika, mafia, fuck the canoe club, Hitler my god, and rock band names … Larry and I removed those.

(Thanks to Sean for the Star link.)

October 17, 2006

Floyd Landis: the Editorial

By now you will have heard that Floyd Landis has gone public with the documentary evidence against him in his anti-doping case. Landis, you will recall, tested positive for testosterone after Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. He is contesting that positive finding on the basis that the laboratory and anti-doping agencies departed from applicable international standards. I have written before about Floyd's chances in this case but I thought I would revisit the issue now that I have more facts in front of me.

The full laboratory documentation has been released by Landis' team and you can find the download instructions at FloydLandis.com. The download includes a PowerPoint presentation created by one Dr. Arnie Baker, and the letter that Landis' lawyer submitted to the ADRB asking that the case against him be dismissed.

Alternatively you can also access the documents at archive.com, where the blogger at Trust But Verify has made all three hundred and seventy individual pages available as separate PDFs. TBV has become an excellent clearinghouse for information on the case.

Before I get to my analysis of the evidence, I have a little bit of editorializing to do.

Providing all of this information to the public is certainly a novel approach. To many internet-savvy cycling fans this move (and his request for an open hearing) has cemented the perception of Landis as an honest man in a crooked system. There has not yet been any technical response from the LNDD, the UCI, or WADA, and I would not expect one until the hearing. However, it would be foolish to assume that Dr. Baker's PowerPoint slides are the last word on the subject. Unfortunately there are few people who have shown a willingness to be skeptical towards both sides of this story. I'm going to try.

There are two separate but related issues that we could debate here, and I'd like to distinguish between them. The first question is: did Floyd Landis use prohibited Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs)? The second is: will he be sanctioned for using prohibeted PEDs?

The answer to the second question is not completely dependent on the answer to the first. Landis may be innocent, but if he has had a valid positive test then he will be punished anyway. By a "valid" positive, I mean one that is positive under the anti-doping rules and procedures that were in place at the time the test was performed.

Of course, the opposite scenario is also possible; Landis might be guilty of using PEDs but still get off on a technicality. Again, the answer to this question rides on the validity of the positive test. If Landis' positive is ruled to be invalid, then he will not be sanctioned.

Part of Floyd's very public campaign of self-defence is aimed at convincing the public and his sponsors that he is not a cheater. It would make me very happy if that was true; however, I think that the answer to this question is essentially unknowable and I am not going to spend any time debating it. If some day Floyd admits that he cheated, or an LNDD technician admits that (s)he cooked the test results, then we can resolve the issue one way or another. I don't think anything I can say in the meantime will change anybody's mind.

The technical portions of Landis' defence, on the other hand, wisely concentrate on challenging the validity of his positive test. In other words, leaving the question of guilt or innocence out of it, Landis will attempt to escape sanction by demonstrating that he did not have a valid positive test. It is this question — the validity of the test results and Floyd's chances of being found "not guilty" — that I will try to address here.

One last point: if you are one of those Floyd Landis fans who thinks that this whole thing is some grand conspiracy orchestrated by the Tour de France, UCI, French media, LNDD, and/or Dick Pound, then nothing in the laboratory documentation package is going to change your mind one way or another. A perfect documentation package, after all, would only be evidence of a perfect conspiracy! In fact if you are one of those conspiracy theorists I would recommend that you don't even look at the evidence — it's just going to be a lot of hard work for nothing.

Now: onward to the analysis!

Floyd Landis: the Evidence

(See the preamble to this post.)

The case assembled by Floyd Landis' support team aims to prove that the athlete's alleged positive test result should be invalidated. In particular, Dr. Baker's PowerPoint presentation and Howard Jacobs' argument for dismissal present a number of points of evidence supporting that claim. I have combed through the laboratory documents to see whether that evidence might lead to Landis' exoneration in this case.

I should say up front that I used the aforementioned two documents (and especially Dr. Baker's slide set) as my guide; I did not go through page by page assembling evidence from scratch. As a result, this is not necessarily a complete argument, as Landis' team claims that there are "dozens of problems" with the tests.

I should also say that I am a physicist, not a biochemist, so I do not have a very deep understanding of the technical data presented in the laboratory documentation. I understand the basic idea of mass spectrometry, but I can't really interpret the raw data. I am not really sure if this is a great hindrance, though; most of the people who review this case (either at the AAA or ultimately at the CAS) will not be medical or scientific experts, either.

In what follows the references of the form "USADA 0000" are to individual pages in the laboratory documentation package. These pages have been provided on archive.com by the blogger at Trust But Verify.

As I noted before, Landis' defence here is based on Article 3.2.1 of the WADA Code. I will repeat that article here to remind you who bears the burden of proof in this matter:

WADA-accredited laboratories are presumed to have conducted sample analysis and custodial procedures in accordance with the International Standard for laboratory analysis. The athlete may rebut this presumption by establishing that a departure from the International Standard occurred.

If the athlete rebuts the preceding assumption by showing that a departure from the International Standard occurred, then the anti-doping organization shall have the burden to establish that such departure did not cause the adverse analytical finding.

The arguments in Dr. Baker's PowerPoint presentation and Howard Jacobs' letter are divided into four rough categories. I will deal with each of these in turn.

1. Bad laboratory documentation: Dr. Baker's presentation shows a number of specific examples of sloppy record keeping by the lab, and I have found at least one more which I will discuss later. The laboratory identification number was incorrect on Landis' T/E results page. The athlete identification number was incorrect — that is, not Landis' — on the same document. The athlete identification number was also incorrect on the specimen transport record, which records the chain of custody of the sample between the collection point and the lab, and on the lab's summary record of the test results.

Another page shows that the sample identification number has been overwritten in a manner inconsistent with the Laboratory Internal Chain of Custody (reference above) — although technically the modification was not made on the Chain of Custody documentation, so the cited reference is not really applicable.

Nevertheless, these mistakes are very embarassing for the lab, and somebody's wrist should definitely be slapped. However, it's probably not going to get Landis off the hook. The lab and sample identification numbers appear dozens (if not hundreds) of times throughout the document; a few errors here and there do not create a significant doubt that the tested samples came from Landis.

To put this in terms of Article 3.2.1, Landis has shown that a departure from the international standard has occurred, but the UCI will not have to work very hard to demonstrate that these errors did not cause his positive tests. If an arbitration panel dismisses Landis' positive over this issue it will be the most technical of technicalities. It's not impossible, but I consider it unlikely.

2. Unexplained variability in the T/E ratio:

In all there were nine vials of Landis' urine subjected to GC/MS (Gas Chromatograph / Mass Spectrometer) analysis at LNDD.

Table 1 — Floyd Landis urine samples subjected to measurement of T, E, and T/E.
Vial Testosterone Concentration
Epitestosterone Concentration
(using Concentration)
References Comment
A Sample Screening Procedure (GC/MS), Aliquot ES04, 2006-Jul-21
11 60.60 13.70 4.9 4.9 USADA 0054, 0055, 0056 T/E exceeds screening threshold (> 4)
A Sample First Confirmation Analysis (GC/MS), Aliquot EC24D, 2006-Jul-22
10 172.23 17.59 10.7 9.8 USADA 0212, 0213 Sample with hydrolysis
11 1.06 0.10 11.2 10.2 USADA 0214, 0215 Sample without hydrolysis
A Sample Second Confirmation Analysis (GC/MS), Aliquot EC24D, 2006-Jul-24
4 61.37 5.20 11.4 11.8 USADA 0092, 0093 Sample with hydrolysis
A Sample Re-Screening Procedure (GC/MS), Aliquot Unknown, 2006-Jul-25
2 49.70 11.10 5.1 5.1 USADA 0057, 0058, 0059 Test not described in aliquot chain of custody table
B Sample Confirmation Analysis (GC/MS), Aliquot EC24D, 2006-Aug-3
4 63.15 5.94 10.9 10.6 USADA 0278, 0277 Sample with hydrolysis
5 61.64 5.75 11.0 10.7 USADA 0279, 0280 Sample with hydrolysis
6 60.18 5.55 11.1 10.8 USADA 0281, 0282 Sample with hydrolysis
7 1.22 0.44 3.6 2.8 USADA 0283, 0284 Sample without hydrolysis

In the table above the "Raw" T/E ratio is calculated using the response amplitudes from the instrument, and the "Concentration" values are calculated after first converting the instrument response to a concentration using a calibration curve. The values don't differ significantly in any case.

The first sample noted was subjected to the Screening Procedure for Natural Hormones. Screening procedures for threshold substances like testosterone are meant to flag a sample for further study; in this case, when the T/E ratio exceeds 4. A sample could also be flagged as suspicious if it showed a high concentration of either testosterone or epitestosterone (> 200 ng/mL). There are no numerical accuracy requirements for Screening procedures.

The sample I have called the "A Sample Re-Screening Procedure" is odd for a couple of reasons. First, it was performed after all of the confirmation tests, including the IRMS confirmation. At that point in time, the screening procedure would appear to be more or less irrelevant, so I am not sure why this was done. The handwritten note on the summary results page (USADA 0057) appears to read "vial de conf reinjecte pr screening." Another odd fact is that this test does not appear on the Aliquot chain of custody table (USADA 0011, 0012, repeated USADA 0255, 0256). This is a very clear violation of the Laboratory Internal Chain of Custody (reference above) and therefore another error in the documentation. Add it to the pile in item 1 above.

The Confirmation Analyses are used to definitively assess the T/E ratio in a sample once it has been identified as suspicious by the screening procedure. The samples I noted as "with hydrolysis" are the ones we should focus on, for now. These samples are subjected to hydrolysis to cleave testosterone and epitestosterone from the various compounds that they form in the urine sample (that's this physicist's understanding). The GC/MS then detects the total concentration of T and E in the urine.

The Confirmation Analysis (with hydrolysis) was run on five different vials of Landis' urine sample; two from the A sample and three from the B sample. Of those, four were very self-consistent: the A sample aliquot tested on 24 July, and the B sample aliquots tested on 3 August all showed T concentrations between 60.18 and 63.15 ng/mL, E concentrations between 5.20 and 5.94 ng/mL, and T/E ratios between 10.6 and 11.8. The LNDD claims (e.g. USADA 0101) that the uncertainty for these results is 30% for E, 20% for T, and 30% for T/E. All four of these measurements fall well within those expectations.

The fifth sample, which was actually the first one tested, is way, way off, with T = 172.23 and E = 17.59. It is true that the ratio of T/E is consistent with the rest of the samples, but the variation in steroid concentration remains unexplained.

It is possible that the LNDD will respond with a valid explanation for this variability. At any rate, by itself I do not think it is sufficient to doom the case. It might suggest that the confirmation procedure was run incorrectly in one instance, but it does not directly imply that all of the other results are invalid.

This brings me, however, to Dr. Baker's third claim.

3. Contamination of the sample: Dr. Baker makes a case that Floyd's B Sample was not suitable for testing. The Reporting and Evaluation Guidance for Testosterone (reference above) has this to say about microbial contamination of urine samples (emphasis mine):

The urine Sample is not collected under sterile conditions, and where the circumstances are favourable, the microbes present in the Sample can cause changes to the profile of the urinary steroids. Initially there is cleavage of the glucuronides and sulfates followed by modifications of the steroids’ structure by oxido-reductive reactions. To report an Adverse Analytical Finding of an elevated T/E value, testosterone or epitestosterone concentration or any other endogenous steroid parameters, the concentration of free testosterone and/or epitestosterone in the specimen is not to exceed 5% of the respective glucuroconjugates. Elevated amounts of 5ALPHA- and 5ß-androstan-3,17-dione in the free form also indicate microbial degradation.

The "free" testosterone in a urine sample is provided by running the Confirmation procedure on a sample without subjecting it to hydrolysis. Only T and E that exists "free" in the urine shows up in the GC/MS traces.

So let's go back to Table 1. There were two aliquots subjected to the confirmation procedure without hydrolysis. One of these was the first A sample confirmation on July 22, which showed acceptable levels of free T and free E (about 0.6% in both cases). The second was from the B sample on August 3 — but that sample showed 2% free testosterone and 7.7% free epitestosterone, calculated as a percentage of the mean of the results from the samples with hydrolysis.

Unless I am misreading the documentation or misinterpreting the science (both possibilities) it seems fairly clear to me that Floyd's B Sample should have been ruled too contaminated for testing. The paragraph I quoted above is quite clear on this: with a concentration of free epitestosterone this high, the B sample could not be used to report an adverse analytical finding.

And if the B Sample cannot confirm the A Sample results, the International Standard for Laboratories (reference above) states clearly that the test is negative: The B Sample result must confirm the A Sample identification for the Adverse Analytical Finding to be valid. The mean value for the B Sample finding for Threshold Substances is required to exceed that threshold including consideration of uncertainty. (International Standard for Laboratories)

If the “B” Sample confirmation does not provide analytical findings that confirm the “A” Sample result, the Sample shall be considered negative and the Testing Authority notified of the new analytical finding.

It is also interesting to consider the hypothesis of contamination with respect to the sample-to-sample variability I discussed in point 3 above. No measurement of free T and E was made in the A sample second confirmation analysis, so there is no evidence of contamination in that sample. However, the concentration results are consistent with the B sample results, which do show evidence of contamination. It might be that the only uncontaminated sample was the first confirmation of the A sample. Note that the aliquot used in the second confirmation of the A sample was prepared for confirmation on the afternoon of July 23 and not tested until almost 24 hours later (ref. USADA 0256).

This speculative explanation does not cover the B sample contamination; however, any microbes present in the sample had an additional 10 days to act on the refrigerated B sample while it was stored at LNDD. Perhaps this was sufficient time to degrade the sample.

4. CIR results did not support a "positive" finding: I've already stated that I think that Landis is ultimately going to win his appeal due to the evidence that his B sample was contaminated when it was tested.

That outcome, however, might still leave the public with the feeling that Landis was a cheater who "got lucky" on the test. After all, his clearly uncontaminated A Sample showed a T/E ratio of approximately 11/1, and the IRMS results on that same sample showed evidence of exogenous testosterone. The IRMS results have been treated by most (including me) as the "smoking gun" in the case.

Landis has an answer for that, too: the IRMS test results do not show evidence of exogenous testosterone, by WADA's own standards.

The argument hinges on the fact that the IRMS test was performed on four different hormone ratios, and more than half of them came up negative when the laboratory standard is applied.

Table 2 — Floyd Landis urine samples subjected to IRMS testing
Metabolite-Reference Blank Urine Δ‰ Sample Δ‰
A Sample IRMS, Aliquot EC31, 2006-July-23 (reference USADA 0186)
Etio - 11 Kétoétio -0.87 -2.58
Andro - 11 Kétoétio -0.48 -3.99
5ß Adiol - 5ß Pdiol -0.55 -2.15
5α Adiol - 5ß Pdiol -1.59 -6.14
B Sample IRMS, Aliquot EC31, 2006-Aug-3 (reference USADA 0352)
Etio - 11 Kétoétio -1.08 -2.02
Andro - 11 Kétoétio -0.08 -3.51
5ß Adiol - 5ß Pdiol -0.67 -2.65
5α Adiol - 5ß Pdiol -1.60 -6.39

The threshold for a positive IRMS finding for exogenous testosterone is Δ‰ = -3.0. The IRMS uncertainty, according to LNDD, is 0.8. That means, according to the International Standard for Laboratories (reference above), that a positive must show Δ‰ of -3.8 or less.

By this standard, the A sample shows two metabolites as positive, and the B sample shows only one.

Landis' team asserts that this is not enough; they argue that all four ratios must exceed the -3.8 threshold to make a positive test. The Reporting and Evaluation Guidance (reference above) is ambiguous on this point; it neither specifies which metabolites should be measured, which reference steroids should be used, nor does it specify how many or which pairs must exceed the threshold.

Depending upon the nature of the endogenous steroid suspected to have been administered, the metabolites analysed could be testosterone, epitestosterone, androsterone, etiocholanolone, the androstanediols, DHEA, or other relevant metabolites while the urinary reference steroid usually analysed by the Laboratories is one of, pregnanediol, pregnanetriol, cholesterol, 11-hydroxyandrosterone or 11-ketoetiocholanolone. …

The results will be reported as consistent with the administration of a steroid when the 13C/12C value measured for the metabolite(s) differs significantly i.e. by 3 delta units or more from that of the urinary reference steroid chosen.

It seems pretty clear, under the Reporting and Evaluation Guidance, that the LNDD could legitimately have tested for a single ratio; and if they had chosen to use the 5α Adiol - 5ß Pdiol ratio as their single measure, it would have returned an unambiguously positive result.

But they didn't do that, and I can't really predict how things are going to go here. It will come down to a question of precedent, I think; whether there is an undocumented standard for the choice of metabolites and the application of the threshold, and whether the LNDD can prove it. This will become an important question if my prediction is incorrect and the B sample results are ruled to be valid.

October 14, 2006

Chris Cochrane on the Commonwealth Games

There have been woefully few comments around here lately. It must be time to write another post about the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot new to say. There has recently been a big increase in visibility for the bid here in HRM, with an extensive marketing campaign on billboards, buses, and newspapers throughout the city. It's been very well done but doesn't do anything to address the anti-Games crowd's most significant sole point of contention.

Today the Herald ran a piece on the subject by Chris Cochrane, and as usual he makes a lot of sense:

Without the facts and figures about costs, cost-sharing and the return on investment, it’s arrogant of anyone to say with certainty that the Games will be good or bad for us.

Why are we in this situation?

One reason is the international bidding war, a time-honoured battle based on a covenant of secrecy that not only keeps bidders in the dark, but taxpayers as well. One would think that in these supposedly more enlightened times, such cloak-and-dagger methods would be dropped in favour of a more open and predictable process. Why not one in which specific regions would host the Games in designated years, reducing the bulk of the international courting?

The other culprit is a Canadian one, that being the game played by our federal government. Like a practised gambler, Ottawa is keeping its cost-sharing cards close to its vest, forcing the host city to make a wager without knowing for certain whether there’s enough money in the bank to cover its bet.

October 11, 2006

Letting Go

A couple of weeks ago, national team rower and Olympic medallist Barney Williams wrote a piece for the Toronto Star about his recent decision to continue competing through the 2008 Olympic Games.

Williams and his wife Buffy (née Alexander) are both Olympic medallists in rowing. Buffy won a bronze medal in the eight in Sydney, to go with five world championship medals over her career. Barney won a silver in the four in Athens and a world championship gold in the same event in 2003.

They were married in the fall of 1999 and spent much of the next five years apart:

From the spring of 2002 until the 2004 Games, we spent less than eight months together as Buffy trained in London, Ont., and I with the men in Victoria. Much of this time together was on training camps or during competition and was therefore hardly quality time given that we were often living in separate hotel rooms and single-mindedly focused on competing.

That single-minded devotion paid off for both Williamses when they made the 2004 Olympic team. Barney describes their time in Athens as "one of the most amazing experiences to date in our marriage … truly a dream come true." The results of the racing were something less than a dream come true, however; Buffy's pair finished fourth, and Barney's four — defending world champions in the event — were nipped at the line for the gold.

After the Olympics the Williamses moved to Oxford to pursue post-graduate education and (in Barney's words) "begin the next chapter of [their] lives … positioning [themselves] for life in the real world." To most people this would imply a certain separation from competitive rowing, but Barney competed at the 2005 and 2006 world championships. He also became captain of the Oxford Crew and won two victories against Cambridge in the world's most famous rowing race. Buffy, in the meantime, has been out of competitive rowing entirely (as far as I can tell) but did win the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity triathlon in 2005. In early 2006 she gave birth to a baby boy (Tavin Alexander Hammersmith Williams).

Now Barney and Buffy have decided that they want to have one more kick at the Olympic can. They're both going back to full-time training with the goal of winning a gold medal or two in Beijing. That means another two years of living apart, delaying their "life in the real world," and relying on others to help share childcare duties.

I find this story both inspiring and unsettling; I feel envious and insulted at the same time.

At the end of my own competitive career — a career in which I reached the Olympic Games, but never matched the achievements of Barney or Buffy Williams — I was twenty-six years old. I got married, finished my Ph.D., and got my first real job at age 29. We now have two children with a third on the way, and all of the run-of-the-mill trappings; dog, debt, and station wagon.

My life since retirement has been pretty similar to the one that Mr. and Mrs. Williams have embarked on and now decided to postpone. I'm not here to question their choices — but am I being too sensitive if I feel like Barney Williams is questioning mine?

I don't mean that personally, of course. Barney Williams doesn't know me and I am sure he did not intend to criticize my life. But he makes it pretty clear that it wouldn't be enough to satisfy him right now. He knows that this pursuit of an Olympic gold medal will be difficult for his young family and for their "life in the real world." He might not admit that the odds are against him, but he knows that many determining factors will be out of his direct control. And still, Barney Williams can't resist the desire to chase that Olympic gold one more time; anything else would be not quite good enough:

Our future appeared bright as we returned to Canada and began the search for a lifestyle that would continue to challenge and inspire us the way that our Olympic pursuit had. We talked about promising career options … and how through triathlons, marathons and even masters mixed rowing we could continue to experience the excitement of training and competing.

However, as the discussion progressed the reality set in that nothing would ever replace the rush of emotions that overcome you when sitting on the starting line for a race that you have focused all your time and energy towards. It is this singular focus that separates Olympians from weekend warriors and makes the transition so difficult for many full-time athletes.

Williams has hit on a great point here. Most adults do not live their lives like high-performance athletes. They cannot point to a moment in the near future and say, "Everything I do today is designed to get me there." Most people do not know the date and time that they will arrive at their moment of truth, and they are not even sure how they will be measured when they get there. That's what makes the transition to regular life so difficult for so many athletes; it's not that the goals are less worthwhile, it's that they are not so simple or so clear.

Since I retired from competition, my dreams and goals have changed to be, well, more like everybody else's. When I succeed, nobody puts me up on a podium and plays the national anthem. In most cases, the finish line is ill-defined and the final result is unmeasurable. But I don't think that ambiguity makes this life — my "life in the real world" — any less worthwhile. Maybe that's just a rationalization from a thirty-something obso-lete that never reached the top of the podium. Maybe the things that have replaced high-level sport in my life are actually much less than what I had before.

I don't really believe that, though. I don't begrudge the Williamses their last shot at their dream; I even envy them a little bit, and I'll definitely be rooting for them. But for my own part, I'm glad that I didn't postpone this life to pursue that one.

October 04, 2006

UBC in the NCAA?

Scott at Timed Finals has the story of the University of British Columbia's application to become the first Canadian member of the NCAA. Josh at the Double-A Zone addressed the idea last spring; reports suggest that UBC expects an answer any day now.

I think that UBC could be competitive if it's selective in the choice of sports it plays. If approved, UBC will participate in at least seven men's and women's sports. They have indicated that they feel that they could be immediately competitive in golf, baseball, volleyball, soccer, swimming, and rowing. That seems like a pretty sensible list.

I'd be curious to learn more about the financial implications of the move, though. In particular, what will be the impact on tuition and fees for the general student population?

The numbers show clearly that athletic departments at state-funded universities in NCAA Division I lose money:

Athletic departments at taxpayer-funded universities nationwide receive more than $1 billion in student fees and general school funds and services, according to an Indianapolis Star analysis of the 2004-05 athletic budgets of 164 of the nation's 215 biggest public schools. Without such outside funding, fewer than 10 percent of athletic departments would have been able to support themselves with ticket sales, television contracts and other revenue-generating sports sources. Most would have lost more than $5 million.

Undoubtedly UBC's athletic department costs students money in the same way right now, and it isn't clear whether the move will make the situation better or worse. What is clear is that NCAA Division I will offer UBC's student athletes a higher level of competition, and that would be good news for Canadian athletes in a number of Olympic sports.