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Sprinter Horn still in limbo over positive dope test

Sprinter Horn still in limbo over positive dope test
Carina Horn wins the women's 100m during 2018 Liquid Telecom Athletix Grand Prix Series 3 meeting at Dal Josaphat Athletics Stadium on March 22, 2018 in Paarl, South Africa. (Photo: Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)

Olympic hopeful Carina Horn’s career is still up in the air after prohibited substances were found in her system following a 2019 drug test.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

After failing a doping test owing to “contaminated supplements”, top South African sprinter Carina Horn is still desperately trying to clear her name.

When she set foot on an athletics track for the first time since her provisional suspension for her positive dope test in 2019, Horn admitted to shedding tears during her warm-up jog because it had been 14 long months.

This was early December last year and said track was in Atteridgeville Township, about an hour’s drive from where the SA sprinter has been holed up in Pretoria since her provisional suspension because she wasn’t allowed to train at her usual facilities at the University of Pretoria.

While the national 100m record holder reckons “it was really amazing, and emotional” to be liberated from doing occasional training sessions in her garden, it is still unclear exactly when she will be released from the purgatory – which has seen her briefly contemplating suicide – of her being stood down from competition until the findings from her hearing.

After grilling her for three-and-a-half hours in November, the last thing members of World Athletics’ Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) told Horn was that they were checking the veracity of her claims during the virtual interrogation. They demanded she furnish them with proof of items such as her tickets for air travel and then said they would get back to her.

Next Wednesday will be 16 months since Horn – whose 10.98sec national record makes her the only South African woman to have dipped under 11 seconds for the short sprint event – was notified of what was euphemistically called an “adverse analytical finding” in her urine sample.

Prohibited substances

The prohibited substances found in her drugs test were Ibutamoren and LGD-4033. According to research, they mimic the growth hormone-stimulating action of the endogenous hormone ghrelin and treat the muscle wasting and weakness associated with ageing, respectively.

Typical of athletes in her situation, Horn – who will be 32 in March – vehemently denies knowingly taking the substances. She lays the blame squarely on the contamination of new supplements she purchased over the counter while back on a month-long trip to South Africa from her usual training base in Austria.

Horn says the reason she needed to buy new supplements, as opposed to her usual ones, was she had left Europe for South Africa directly from a meet which was not in her training base of Linz in Austria.

Horn believes that she has been “proven innocent” because she says her team has traced the prohibited substances directly to the pre- and post-workout supplements.

But the situation is murky insofar as her strict liability for what she puts in her body and her claims that not only were the substances not listed in the ingredients, she was also reassured that they were “clean”.

Supplements underworld

“Luckily for me I proved (to the AIU agents) that I’d had a chat on Instagram with the one guy who is the CEO of the one (supplements) company and he reassured me that it was okay for athletes, as it had been tested professionally,” Horn explained to DM168.

“That (the fact that the CEO appears to have misled her) is something I’ll have to handle (legally) afterwards because it’s cost me almost two years of my career, but for now I have to make sure that I do get my career back.

“As an athlete you do have to do your own research to make sure everything is okay, so it’s 100% your responsibility to make sure you’re using the right things, but you never know. The thing is, you can never be sure as an athlete because you (almost) have to send your supplements to the lab before you take them, which is impossible.”

The impossibility to which Horn refers is the time it would take to get said supplement to get the green light for consumption. For example, Horn says she suffers from chronic insomnia for which she takes sleeping pills, the use of which she has to discontinue from time to time.

When taking a break from the sleeping pills, she relies on a caffeine-laced pre-workout supplement to help her get through in excess of five hours’ worth of training without having slept.

While the US Anti-Doping Agency reports that LGD-4033 “is one of the many investigational drugs to be illegally included in supplements marketed to athletes and abused for its anabolic effects in recent years”, the alarming thing about its presence in a supplement is that “it has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for clinical use in humans”.

Assuming that her team has, indeed, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prohibited performance-enhancing drugs not only emanated from the supplements but were also not listed in the ingredients, Horn’s case will be decided on the balance of that and the strict liability principle.

Suicidal thoughts

The last year and a bit has been understandably rough on Horn, who took to Instagram to address her “supporters and haters” in November, updating them about the status of her case.

She also gave an update about her state of mind at some stage of her exile: “It’s going to be hard for my friends and family to hear this, but there have been times over the last year when I’ve wanted to take my own life.

“I thought about getting in the car, drinking whatever and driving at 200 km/h, or something like that…” The 2016 Olympic semi-finalist, who hasn’t found something to occupy her work-wise, elaborated on the severity of her depression through this period.

“I’ve tried to train and some days I can train and some days I can’t,” she says. “On the days I don’t feel well I don’t do anything and when I feel I can, I train. I don’t really think I can put the feelings and emotions [into] words.

“I don’t know how to explain depression because basically your whole life has been taken away from you and you’re in a blur and don’t know what to do. I can’t carry on with my life and make decisions like whether I’m done with athletics because it’s up to other people to decide that.”

Guilty until proven innocent

Her sponsors may have stuck by her pending the outcome of her hearing, but Horn says that in the time-honoured fashion the announcement of her positive dope test has led to many in her immediate community finding her guilty until proven innocent.

“I’m not going to lie; it’s been really bad. About three weeks ago there was an article where people who didn’t even know me personally attacked me,” she said. “Defending yourself against people like that is emotionally draining and hurts.

“It wasn’t nice to read all those things – people can be really ugly – but I’ve learnt to take it from where it comes and treat it like water off a duck’s back.”

All things being equal, Horn hopes her proving the prohibited substances came from her supplements gets her a one-year ban for the strict liability part – a situation which would allow her to attempt to qualify for the postponed Olympics this year – but she is loath to daydream about what might be.

“I can’t answer that because I’ve seen cases where people have got away with things and others not,” she said. “I’ve proven the source and that makes me feel lighter, but it’s still stressful because you never know about a lot of other technical things that could be held against me.”

Horn says she hasn’t contemplated the worst-case scenario of a longer ban: “I have faith in God, I know that God knows what’s really the case. He’ll make the decision of what happens with me, not the people at the AIU.

“I believe I still have a career left and God will give me answers. You have to show your faith if you really want something; it’s not just going to come to you.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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