Shelby Houlihan Loses Appeal of Doping Ban

The American record holder will not be eligible to compete again until January 2025.

shelby houlihan
USATF

Shelby Houlihan, the American record holder in the 1500 and 5,000 meters who is serving a four-year suspension from track after a failed drug test, wrote on Instagram that she lost the appeal of her suspension to the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

Houlihan, 29, said her ban will be upheld. She will be eligible to compete again on January 13, 2025, when she will be almost 32. She will miss the World Championships in 2022 and 2023 and the Olympic Games in 2024, but she would be eligible for the 2025 World Championships, should she qualify.

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A call to Houlihan’s attorney, Paul Greene, was not immediately returned, nor did Houlihan respond to a message requesting an interview.

In a Zoom press conference in June 2021, Houlihan announced that she tested positive for nandrolone, an anabolic-androgenic steroid, on December 15, 2020, in an out-of-competition test.

She blamed the positive test on tainted pork from a burrito she bought at a food truck, and she continues to maintain her innocence.

In the Instagram post on May 18 announcing she lost her appeal, she wrote, “I was told from the start that it was a long shot; it’s extremely hard to overturn these cases and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I had to try anyway. I had to fight for myself, my career, and my reputation because I am innocent. The truth hasn’t won here and that’s devastating.”

Houlihan initially appealed her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), hoping to be able to compete in last June’s Olympic Trials.

CAS denied Houlihan’s first appeal. In September, the Athletics Integrity Unit, which tests athletes on behalf of World Athletics, released a 44-page CAS report on Houlihan’s case, which cast doubt on her claims.

Houlihan’s attorney had said uncastrated boar meat from a food truck in Beaverton, Oregon, triggered the positive test. But the panel of CAS judges found that the food truck where Houlihan ate orders its pork from a Tyson plant that does not process boar meat.

The panel also found that the levels of nandrolone found in Houlihan’s urine sample were two to three times higher than they would have been from eating contaminated food.

The fallout from the case has continued to affect Houlihan’s training group, the Bowerman Track Club, in the months after her ban. Her coaches, Jerry Schumacher and Shalane Flanagan, have stood by her.

But there has been a large exodus of women from the team, both before and after Houlihan first announced her ban. Marielle Hall, Emily Infeld, and Sinclaire Johnson left the group after the news broke.

Houlihan continued to train with the team or do her track workouts immediately after the team.

In January, when questions about Houlihan training with the team arose, Greene, Houlihan’s lawyer, issued a statement to Runner’s World:

“Shelby Houlihan has been training in a manner that is completely permitted by the World Athletics rules in compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code. She obviously hopes that she will win her appeal and be able to race again this year. Her appeal remains pending before the Swiss Federal Tribunal. There is no way to say with certainty when a decision will be issued. We hope to have a decision by spring.”

On February 4, she posted a photo of her watch displaying the time 4:03 to her Instagram story. The photo appeared to show her results from a 1500-meter time trial.

But Houlihan’s proximity to the group caused Canadian 1500-meter specialist Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, who was fifth at the Olympics last year, to leave the group in April.

In an email to LetsRun last month, DeBues-Stafford wrote, “This absence of clarity surrounding the boundaries between BTC and a banned athlete is the critical reason for my departure.”

DeBues-Stafford did not return text messages from Runner’s World seeking comment at the time.

Her sister, Lucia Stafford, is no longer pictured on the team website. Only five women remain part of Bowerman—Elise Cranny, Vanessa Fraser, Courtney Frerichs, Karissa Schweizer, and Andrea Seccafien. At one point, as many as 11 women were seen in social media photos doing intervals on the track together.

Houlihan is thought to have lost her sponsorship from Nike. Nike did not immediately return an email from Runner’s World seeking clarification of her sponsorship status. In November, Houlihan launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for her legal fees.

The page generated 168 donations and raised $15,455, only 5 percent of her stated goal of $300,000.


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