Friday 28 October 2016

Steven Colvert: 'The damage to my name is done but science isn't infallible - it wasn't clear-cut'

Published 20/07/2015 | 02:30

Steven Colvert, Crusaders A.C. Dublin
Steven Colvert, Crusaders A.C. Dublin

Having just graduated with an honours degree in law, Steven Colvert knows he is stretching credibility and your powers of logic and reason.

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But that is what he is asking you to believe: that science got it wrong and that he is innocent of a doping charge.

There is certainly one thing he is not lying about. The culmination of his unsuccessful year-long battle to prove he was not guilty of doping was certainly "like something out of a Kafka novel".

The Mullingar sprinter (24) got banned for two years last week as a result of having traces of synthetic (recombinant) EPO in his system in May 2014.

The Irish Sport's Council's statement did not contain the picture that Colvert carries on his phone - a photo of a scientific read-out that he argues shows that the scientists in a German WADA-accredited laboratory in Cologne got it wrong.

Location and cost were some of the reasons that, after talking to two highly-regarded international experts on EPO (one of them wanted $15,000) he eventually settled on British biochemist Dr Peter Kwasowski to be his medical expert.

Kwasowski did consultancy work for Enfer labs in Naas so travelled here regularly. He offered to do the case pro bono once his flights and accommodation were covered.


His son accompanied him over and Colvert thought the biochemist did not seem well at the hearing last month but put it down to his recent back pain.

Later that night Kwasowski died in his Dublin hotel. It was a desperately tragic and bizarre twist in a case that went on for more than a year.

Colvert did not appear to fit the profile of an athlete who would use EPO, a blood booster that stimulates red blood cell production and is most commonly used by endurance athletes, yet high-profile sprinters such as Marian Jones and Kelli White have admitted to using it.

Colvert won the Irish 200m title in 2012 when he was just two-hundredths of a second off qualifying for the London Olympics but 2013 was virtually written off with groin injuries.

He ran a 60m PB indoors in 2014, was just starting the outdoor season and in the middle of second-year law exams in DCU when he was tested.

"I haven't doped, why would I dope?" he says. "It wasn't like I'd peaked and thought 'maybe I can get a bit more money out of the sport?'.

"It was never about that for me. Yes, I'd been injured. Did I think I needed to dope in order to get back? No. I didn't think I'd reached my potential. I'd just changed coaches and my training load was 40pc less than before."

He says he could have swerved the test because he immediately recognised the testers in an adjoining cafe when he walked out of the exam hall.

"I could have avoided a test but I didn't, because I had absolutely nothing to hide," he says.

His initial reaction was that the testers must have mixed up his sample with someone else.

His solicitors initially sought to have the names of all other Irish athletes tested in the five days before and after his but were refused due to the Data Protection Act.

His B test confirmed the original finding and he now accepts that the sample was his, but he initially asked for it to be DNA-tested, a request that was refused on grounds of expense.

He's well aware that everyone rolls their eyebrows when they hear yet another track athlete whimper 'but I'm innocent!' but he believes someone messed up in Cologne.

His test was part of a batch of unidentified athletes tested for EPO. The visual result of EPO urine tests appear as a 'blot' on a graph.

Anything that crosses a particular threshold (marked by a line) on the graph is deemed positive, but shape and size also come into the judgment.

Many other blots on the graph look extremely similar to his but were deemed negative. His was deemed positive.

"It's very hard to argue with science, I get that," he accepts. "I always thought science was infallible but I've seen now that it sometimes comes down to 'interpretations' of results. It's not always that clear-cut."

However, Colvert looks unlikely now to go down the route of an even more expensive appeal. Three different WADA experts (two from Austria) felt his reading was positive and he couldn't disprove the science.

His family have already sunk €20,000 into helping him and he says the process has "visibly aged" some of them.

He is hopeful that a major law firm, with whom he has already interned, will take him on for his solicitor training next year.

He told them of the case when they first interviewed him.


DCU upheld his athletics scholarship and supported him throughout, but he knows how it looks to most. He will be eligible to compete again in June next year.

"When I come back and run PBs people will say 'he's a doper'. I know because that's what I say! I see Justin Gatlin, (and think) 'he's a bastard'.

"Dopers are bastards. There's no place for them in the sport. I'm all for lifetime bans for people who deliberately dope.

"I genuinely do believe that something will happen eventually, where they'll go 'that's what caused that (result) on that particular day'. There's still some of my B sample in Cologne and ever since my first test (in 2009) I've always agreed to my samples being stored for future testing.

"I just want the truth. The damage to my name is done, that's always going to stick.

"I'll take that once someone eventually comes along and says 'this is what happened'."

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