Shelby Houlihan Cleared to Run in U.S. Track Trials While Appealing Failed Drug Test

Jenna CiccotelliCorrespondent IIJune 17, 2021

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO - FEBRUARY 14: Shelby Houlihan crosses the finish line to win the Women's 3000 M during the 2020 Toyota USATF Indoor Championships at Albuquerque Convention Center on February 14, 2020 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Middle distance runner Shelby Houlihan will attempt to make the U.S. Olympic team this weekend, even though she's facing a four-year ban from the sport for a failed drug test.

Since she has an active appeal, she will be allowed to race in the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, per Eddie Pells and Pat Graham of the Associated Press. She is currently on the start list for Friday's preliminary races in the 1,500- and 5,000-meter events, in which she holds the American records. 

"Given there is an active appeal process, USATF will allow any athletes to continue competing until the process is completed," USA Track and Field managing director of communications Susan Hazzard told the AP.  

The suspension, which was handed out after Houlihan tested positive for trace amounts of nandrolone, a performance enhancer, was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport earlier this week. If it is upheld following her appeal, she will be ineligible for the Tokyo Olympics and the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

Nandrolone is one of the most common steroids used by athletes, according to 2019 data from the World Anti-Doping Agency (h/t Aishwarya Kumar of ESPN). 

Houlihan, who placed 11th in the 5,000m at the 2016 Olympics, said the trace amounts of the substance could be attributed to pork from a burrito she consumed 10 hours before the December drug test, but the case was not dropped. 

"I have never taken any performance enhancing substances," Houlihan wrote in an Instagram post. "And that includes that of which I am being accused. I believe in the sport and pushing your body to the limit just to see where the limit is. I'm not interested in cheating." 

According to Kumar, "unless the athlete can provide a sample of the meat for testing, the Court of Arbitration for Sport and anti-doping organizations generally do not entertain arguments when samples show the presence of nandrolone." 

Kumar wrote that James Kibet, a runner from Kenya, tried to use a similar argument after testing positive in 2019. His ban was upheld in February.