EUGENE, Oregon — Banned runner Shelby Houlihan is entered at U.S. Olympic track and field trials, setting up what could be a high-stakes showdown involving her, antidoping regulators and American sports officials who do not have the authority to let a suspended athlete compete.
Houlihan, the American record holder at 1500m and 5000m, is on the start list for Friday’s preliminaries at both distances. Though those lists were initially produced before word of her four-year doping ban went public earlier this week, USA Track and Field said it would take her off only once her appeals were exhausted.
“Given there is an active appeal process, USATF will allow any athletes to continue competing until the process is completed,” managing director of communications Susan Hazzard said.
But the event, while run by USATF, is officially overseen by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. If the USOPC allows Houlihan to run while she is banned, it would be violating the world antidoping code. The federation was formulating its response late Thursday afternoon.
“Despite how frustrated people might be with the … decision, she is serving a sanction,” said U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart. “Under the rules she’s not allowed to compete. It would be illegal for her to do so, unless a court orders differently.”
Earlier this week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld Houlihan’s four-year ban for testing positive for trace amounts of the performance enhancer nandrolone.
She blamed her positive test on a burrito she ate 10 hours before a test in December. Contaminated meats have led to positive tests in other cases, many of which have been dismissed. But Houlihan did not receive any leniency, and her ban would keep her out of the upcoming Olympics and the 2024 Games.
It still might, and while the USATF said it would not allow a banned athlete to run at trials, it also doesn’t want to deny her a chance to qualify if, in fact, there’s any chance she can be reinstated on an appeal.
“You can always resolve the outcome later, but you can’t re-run a race,” CEO Max Siegel said.
Houlihan’s representatives would not say what her next move would be. Typically, when athletes lose cases at CAS, which is based in Switzerland, they appeal to that country’s highest court. In time-sensitive cases, that court can issue an injunction that would allow an athlete to participate while a case is decided.
But rarely does the federal court step in on sports-related matters, which makes Houlihan’s chances of prevailing slim.
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