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American middle-distance athlete, Shelby Houlihan, tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone.

As a result, she received a four-year suspension. Houlihan appealed her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), however, the organisation upheld the ban. Houlihan subsequently wrote on her Facebook page that on January 14, 2021, she was notified by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) of the positive test result. She went on to say that she has dedicated her life to the sport and would never cheat.

Shelby Houlihan at 2014 Victoria Track Classic

“On January 14th, 2021, I received an email from the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), informing me a drug testing sample that I provided on December 15th, 2020 has returned as an Adverse Analytical Finding for a steroid called nandrolone and that I am therefore subject to an immediate Provisional Suspension. When I got that email, I had to read it over about ten times and google what it was that I had just tested positive for. I had never even heard of nandrolone.

I have since learned that it has long been understood by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) that eating pork can lead to a false positive for nandrolone since certain types of pigs produce it naturally in high amounts. Pig organ meat (offal) has the highest levels of nandrolone?”

Nandrolone is one of the most widely used performance-enhancing drugs in high-performance sports, bodybuilding, and weightlifting. It is surprising that Houlihan has never heard of it, as she claims in her Facebook post. The steroid was created during the 1950s and has been allegedly used since the 1970s. The East Germans seemed to use it in sprinting and throwing events and have been a favourite of sprinters since. Some middle-distance and even long-distance runners have been suspended for usage over the years.

Houlihan’s claim that she consumed the steroid by eating meat is similar to several American athlete’s stories including when fellow American Ajee Wilson tested positive.

Although not unheard of, Houlihan had a sudden improvement in 2018 in the 1500m distance event. She began running faster and set a personal best of 3:57.34. Until then, she was unable to run under the four-minute barrier. Her personal best was 4:03.39. She is now the American record holder at 3:54.99, which she set during the 2019 Doha World Athletics Championships, where she finished fourth. The world record is 3:50.07. She is the 17th fastest athlete in the world with the 18th fastest time, including several athletes from China and one from Russia who are suspected to have cheated due to systematic doping.

That same year (2018), Houlihan dipped below 15-minutes in the 5000m event for the first time with a 14:34.45 performance, which is also an American record.

She will miss two Olympics and two world championships, however, is appealing to the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

The Nike Bowerman Track Club athlete said that she will continue to fight the ban. She is coached by Jerry Schumacher and Shalane Flanagan.