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Debunking the Frank Mir vs USADA debacle

On the heels of a two-year suspension, Frank Mir has made several claims about the veracity of his test results. Iain Kidd examines those claims.

UFC Brisbane Media Day Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images

The case of Frank Mir vs. USADA has been an interesting one, to say the least. From Frank’s original claims about tainted kangaroo meat, to his recent allegations that USADA is using debunked tests, there’s a lot to parse here. I’m going to break down each of his recent claims and examine the evidence behind them.

Claim one: Mir said that he was originally told his February 5 sample was clear, only to be later told it actually tested positive for the DHCMT metabolite.

'It is frustrating to now be told that USADA has changed their mind about the February 5 test, claiming that the sample they once cleared is now clouded with the same trace metabolite.'

It is true that his sample from February 5th, 2016 was not initially flagged as a positive test. USADA have stated that this is because the lab which conducted that testing (SMRTL) did not, at the time, have the ability to perform the specific test which discovered the metabolite. When the lab developed that capability, USADA had them retest the sample, and found it also contained the banned metabolite, just like his March 20th sample which was tested in the WADA accredited lab in Tokyo.

USADA spokesman Ryan Madden informed me that the February sample was sent SMRTL lab in Utah which implemented full-time testing for this specific metabolite in Spring 2016. The sample was originally tested at UCLA, but this lab still hadn't implemented the new methodology at the time of the retest.

This ability to go back and retest old samples with new technology and methodologies is something anti-doping agencies have been using more often since the McLaren report came out. Hundreds of historical samples belonging to Russian athletes have been retested in the last year. USADA's Ryan Madden had this to say about USADA's retesting policy:

'The ability to re-test samples as the science improves and new detection methods are made available is one of the strengths of the UFC anti-doping program. There is a 10-year statute of limitation on every collected sample and fighters around the world are educated that at any point in those 10 years, USADA reserves the right to go back and re-test old samples using the most up-to-date scientific technology. That’s a huge deterrent for most athletes.'

Claim two: Mir claimed that the test could have flagged something he took two years ago. (Claims two and three are addressed together below)

Claim three: Mir implies that the positive test could have been caused by his testosterone replacement therapy.

'Even more frustrating is that I've been told that the long term metabolite could date back two years, prior to the implementation of USADA standards and possibly to a time when I had a legal exemption for testosterone replacement therapy.'

The test in question looks at a long-lasting metabolite of DHCMT (oral turinabol). Mir does have a valid point in one respect here; there is, as far as I can tell, no controlled excretion study for this metabolite. This, sadly, isn’t a rare occurrence. WADA is rather lackadaisical about performing such testing, as shown most famously by the meldonium debacle of 2016.

With that being said, the testing protocol for the metabolite lays out the estimated detection time, which is 40-50 days. It won’t be surprising to find this detection time is off, maybe even by a factor of two, but there’s little to no chance that it’s off by a factor of 10, which would have to be the case for Mir’s pre-USADA timeline to make sense.

As far as Mir’s implied TRT involvement goes, that makes no sense. No competent doctor would prescribe a patient oral turinabol as part of a TRT regimen. Not only is it not licensed for use as such to my knowledge, it also has significant negative side effects, including life-threatening liver damage. The test for the DHMCT metabolite would not detect the presence of testosterone or other drugs normally given as part of testosterone replacement therapy.

Claim four: Mir claims that the test has false positives all the time and can be triggered by coffee.

'Their doctor basically invented this new test that they’re using, he’s being sued by several athletes. They’re finding out that this test comes out with false positives all the time. The deputy prime minister of Russia said that they found it after someone drank coffee, so is this test that I failed even a legitimate test?'

Oral turinabol was popular among Russian athletes involved in the state sponsored doping scandal, being mentioned in the report as showing up in several samples in the Moscow lab which were subsequently reported as negative as part of a cover-up.

Yuliya Stepanova, the Russian whistleblower, recorded one of her coaches giving her oral turinabol as well. At least 6 Russian athletes have been caught using turinabol by retests of London 2012 samples.

As a majority of Russian athletes being caught by retesting are failing for oral turinabol, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister of sports has been casting aspersions on the accuracy of the test, though it must be noted he said some experts thought the test could give a positive from coffee, not that it has done so.

WADA responded to the Russian claims, stating that they had tested thousands of coffee drinkers samples without finding turinabol or turinabol metabolites.

Claim five: Mir claimed the person who developed the test was later fired from his job at a drug testing lab.

'The guy that created the test got fired from the labs in Russia.'

The “guy” in question is Grigory Rodchenkov, who was implicated in the Russian doping scandal and became a whistleblower after resigning (not being fired) from the Moscow lab.

Rodchenkov was actually involved in destroying positive samples from Russian athletes, and developing cocktails of performance enhancing drugs. Unsurprisingly, Russian officials have tried to undermine his credibility since he was exposing state-sponsored doping in the country.

Claim six: Mir claims that any supplement could be tainted with turinabol.

'The metabolite could have been in any supplement I’ve taken. As we’ve seen with guys like Tim Means and Yoel Romero, supplement companies will put stuff in there that shouldn’t be in there so the supplement gets great results, and they’ll take it out eventually if they get caught.'

This is, essentially, true. Several supplements on USADA’s 411 list have been found to contain unlisted turinabol, and the 411 list only scratches the surface. Product contamination is a serious problem with supplements, and the FDA have very limited powers when it comes to the supplement industry.

Claim seven: Mir claimed he only focused on testing supplements from a specific time period because his original test was negative, and then decided not to test more supplements after finding out he would have to test everything from the last three years.

‘I wouldn’t have just focused on eight weeks of my life. I would have went “Oh, okay, now that this test shows these metabolites are in my system, how far back can it go? Years? Okay, let’s break out the notepad and get this process started." But instead, you guys failed to test it the first time . . . Now do I spend X amounts of money testing supplements I took over the last three years, or do I just ride out the rest of my suspension?’

This is an interesting one. The idea of finding out when you failed the test in order to narrow down which supplements to have tested for contamination is a good one. As a result, I asked USADA if Mir ever requested that they go back and retest even older samples to try to find out what the first instance of the metabolite showing up was. By doing this Mir could easily narrow down which supplements to test.

USADA spokesman Ryan Madden informed me that Mir did not, at any point, request that previous samples be re-tested.

To sum up, while some of Mir’s claims have some merit, the overall gist that he is being punished for something he may have taken before USADA’s policy came into effect does not. It’s plausible that his failed test was caused by a tainted supplement, but not one taken years before the test.

The test used to detect the banned metabolite is relatively new, and more research needs to be performed to narrow down the exact detection window, but the only claims of it being unreliable come from Russian officials while many Russian athletes are failing said test.

This article has been updated to more accurately reflect which location each sample was tested at.