A year after Usain Bolt made history at the London Olympics and declared himself “a living legend,” a bombshell dropped largely unnoticed in The Gleaner, the Caribbean’s oldest newspaper: A former director of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission alleged the island didn’t drug-test its athletes for entire months before they dazzled at the Summer Games.
Statistics compiled by former JADCO Executive Director Renee Anne Shirley indicated a near-complete breakdown in the agency’s out-of-competition testing from January 2012 to the July opening of the Olympics.
In an interview with The Associated Press, JADCO chairman Herbert Elliott dismissed Shirley’s figures as lies and described her as “a bit demented” and “a Judas.”
But the World Anti-Doping Agency confirmed to AP that there was, as Shirley asserted, “a significant gap of no testing” by JADCO as athletes trained for London — and that it would launch an “extraordinary” audit of the Jamaican agency.
What’s more, International Olympic Committee medical chiefs, WADA and Britain’s anti-doping agency, which also worked on London’s massive drug-testing program, told the AP that they were kept in the dark about Jamaican testing lapses that Shirley exposed in her August letter to The Gleaner.
“There was a period of … maybe five to six months during the beginning part of 2012 where there was no effective operation,” WADA Director General David Howman said in an interview. “No testing. There might have been one or two, but there was no testing. So we were worried about it, obviously.”
Jamaican stars didn’t go completely untested before London. Track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, says it extensively tested elite Jamaicans, including Bolt more than 12 times last year. History’s fastest human has never failed a drug test.
Jamaica won eight of 12 individual sprint medals in London. Bolt became the first man to win both the 100 and 200 meters at consecutive games and anchored Jamaica’s relay victory in world-record time.
It isn’t possible to judge with any certainty whether the gaps in Jamaica’s testing opened a door to cheating, particularly because other agencies refuse to say how many tests were conducted on the Jamaicans in 2012.
The revelations by Shirley, however, were alarming enough to prompt action. While WADA has audited Jamaica’s testing regime before, Howman said its new action is a direct response to the problems Shirley exposed and to positive doping tests this year for five athletes who competed for Jamaica in London. They include former world 100 record holder Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, an Olympic 4×100-relay gold and silver medalist.
“It’s an extraordinary visit,” Howman said. Jamaica is “a high priority. … They’re on our radar.”
WADA is unhappy Jamaica hasn’t agreed to a swift inspection. Elliott said JADCO couldn’t accommodate the auditors when WADA wanted and isn’t expecting the visit before the end of the year.
Shirley said JADCO conducted 96 tests in competition in 2012 before the Olympics, all in May and June at an invitational meet and the national trials. But away from the competitive events, there was no Jamaican testing for five of the seven months before the London Games, she said.
After 10 tests in February and one in April, JADCO’s out-of-competition program stopped, according to Shirley’s figures. She later gave the same figures to Sports Illustrated, where they generated more attention than her letter to The Gleaner.
“It irritated me as a Jamaican: one test out of competition, for what, five months or four months?” Shirley said in a telephone interview. “Given that it was an Olympic year, I felt that more could have been done.”
IOC medical commission Chairman Arne Ljungqvist and Patrick Schamasch, who retired as IOC medical director after London, said they weren’t told of the testing gap. They said they could have ordered additional tests on Jamaica’s team had they known.
“For certain, we weren’t informed of anything about Jamaica,” Schamasch said. “Had we been told that JADCO wasn’t able to test beforehand, we possibly could have readjusted our aim a little bit.”
Ljungqvist said: “Jamaica is far from being alone, you know? We know that out-of-competition testing in the proper way is not being conducted unfortunately in many parts of the world. One shouldn’t single out Jamaica.”
But Jamaica isn’t just any country. Led by Bolt, it dethroned the U.S. as the dominant sprinting power at the last two Olympics.
“It’s almost abnormal, OK? Let’s face it. For a country of less than 3 million people,” Shirley said. “What, you’re saying there’s something peculiar in the water in Jamaica?”
Howman told the AP that WADA learned only after London — from Shirley — of the testing voids. Although JADCO was under no obligation to inform anyone earlier, “you’d expect it,” he said.
“We had no knowledge of anything that was down there until we heard from her.”
Elliott, the JADCO chairman, bristles at the mention of Shirley’s name.
“Ms. Shirley has done this country and herself a great deal of harm by saying things that are not totally in keeping with the truth,” he said in a phone interview.
JADCO’s and Shirley’s overall testing figures for 2012 actually agree. Both say JADCO did a total of 179 tests — 108 in competition and 71 out of competition. But Shirley gave month-by-month figures, and JADCO didn’t.
Pressed by AP, Elliot said: “Maybe I’ll have the figures tomorrow.”