Asafa Powell at Doha Stadium in Qatar in 2012. Photo: Doha Stadium Plus Qatar.

Asafa Powell at Doha Stadium in Qatar in 2012. Photo: Doha Stadium Plus Qatar.

For an expert opinion on the latest doping scandal to rock the athletics community, we caught up with Dr. Trent Stellingwerff, a senior physiologist and director of innovation and research at the Canadian Sport Institute in Victoria, B.C.

Stellingwerff is currently in Lausanne, Switzerland working with Canada’s national rowing and track and field teams, but took the time for a Q&A with Canadian Running to respond to the recent news that Asafa Powell, Sherone Simpson and Tyson Gay tested positive for banned drugs. Stellingwerff says he hopes to dispel some myths about drugs in sport and to send a positive message to Canadian runners.

Canadian Running: What was your first reaction when you heard the news about the sprinters’ positive dope tests?

Trent Stellingwerff: My first reaction was sadness. Even though I have the wonderful opportunity to work with many Olympic track and field athletes, and have attended many Olympics and world championships, at heart I’m still a fan of the Olympic spirit and “pure” performance – so one always wants to “believe.” But, quickly, my second reaction was one of satisfaction. When big names such as this are tested positive you know that names are not being protected. This is a big win for the many, many clean elite athletes.

CR: Asafa Powell reportedly tested positive for the banned stimulant oxilofrine. How would this drug help sprinters? Is it available in Canada?

TS: I am not a drug specialist, but like many other over-the-counter drugs, similar to ephedrine, oxilofrine (chemical name: methylsynephrine) “supposedly” increases adrenaline (or epinephrine) production, and is thought to be a stimulant (think very, very, very strong caffeine). It is a suggested androgenic agonist and is thought to allow people to burn fat faster and lose weight. It was originally made to treat people with low blood pressure. However, if you do a search on www.pubmed.com, there doesn’t appear to be any strong research data showing any performance effects of this substance in humans. However, similar substances (e.g. pseudoephedrine) have shown positive performance effects – hence this substance being banned.  Whether it’s available in Canada is somewhat irrelevant. Nearly everything can be ordered off the internet these days.

CR: What do you know about Chris Xuereb, the Canadian trainer who was working with Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson?

TS: I do not know Chris whatsoever.  I have heard of him in and around the Ontario track and field scene – but that is it.

CR: Do you think there’s a chance Xuereb is being used as a scapegoat for Powell and Simpson’s positive tests? 

TS: I don’t believe in scapegoats. Athletes need to be educated that every single food/substance they consume is their responsibility. They need to accept full responsibility, and be sure they trust their teams around them. There can’t be any other way.

CR: How can athletes ensure they’re not taking in any illegal substances, and how difficult is it to be vigilant about any accidental ingestion of banned drugs?

TS: It’s getting harder and harder for athletes in this regard. They need to find out true professionals in their fields, who do their due diligence, on supplement purity. Athletes should ask for NSF or Informed Choice “certifications” on each supplement they consume (or have that on the label, or have their supplements listed on their respective NSF and Informed Choice websites). Unfortunately, the title “nutrition expert” is not regulated, therefore anyone can claim to be a nutrition expert. Instead, look for individuals who have an RD (registered dietician) or a Masters or PhD (especially with nutrition research). If an MSc or PhD, look up their name on www.pubmed.com – if there are no hits, it should be a red flag. Find true professionals who have worked in the sport for a while, and actually may appear conservative, as they have your long-term interests in mind.

CR: Are these latest drug busts a good sign that they’re cracking down on those who aren’t racing clean?

TS: You bet. Although these positives do not appear to be hardcore steroids, it is still a doping offence and shows that WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] and IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federations] are serious about doping.  These positives will further deter people who even think about using harder banned substances such as steroids. I also want to stress to track and field fans that there are many, many track and field athletes who can produce world-class performances completely clean. I get the pleasure of knowing and working with many of them!

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