Sunday 16 June 2019

Clarity at last as O'Reilly loses Olympic dream

Boxer will be first Irish athlete expelled from an Olympiad – and he has no-one but himself to blame, writes Vincent Hogan

Michael O’Reilly is expected to fly home before Friday, his scheduled fight day. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael O’Reilly is expected to fly home before Friday, his scheduled fight day. Photo: Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

So Michael O'Reilly got there in God's own good time, finally admitting that the adverse drug finding against his name might, after all, have had a simple provenance.

His admission of ingesting a 'supplement' that "may have contained a banned substance" finally brought clarity and, effectively, closure to a story that had been festering since news of his failed test first broke during last Thursday's boxing draw in Teatro Bradesco.

He will have been advised that the expression "not deliberate or intentional", used in yesterday's statement, would have cut little ice with the World Anti-Doping Agency.

In all but the most extraordinary of circumstance, an athlete must take responsibility for any product found within their system. To WADA's enforcers, a plea of naivety amounts to little more than a soft-focus admission of guilt.


And that is precisely how yesterday's statement on behalf of O'Reilly will now be interpreted.

Given the degree to which High Performance athletes are consistently warned about anti-doping violations - repeatedly being furnished with lists of all prohibited substances - it seems startling that the 23-year-old Clonmel boxer would have gambled on taking an unlicensed supplement without checking its status, particularly so close to the Olympic Games.

John Joe Nevin spoke this week of how it was considered common practice for High Performance boxers to check with former head coach Billy Walsh before consuming even the most common of cough medicines.

Walsh left to take over the US Women's programme last October, but it would still have been a simple process for O'Reilly to check the legality of the supplement in question before consuming it.

That he did not do so damns him in the eyes of the drugs police and now leads to him becoming Ireland's first athlete ever expelled from an Olympic Games and the probable follow-up punishment of a two-year ban.

One wonders why it took five days for yesterday's statement to materialise given it includes a revelation that O'Reilly actually disclosed his consumption of the 'supplement' at the time of the test in Ireland.

The circumstances in which his positive came to light left much to be desired, with Irish coaches Zaur Antia, Eddie Bolger and John Conlan having to face a gauntlet of media questioning in Rio because of the story being leaked to a journalist at home by someone in authority before the principals had even been informed.

The case became an acute embarrassment to the Irish in Rio, particularly the boxers upon who so much medal expectation has come to weigh at recent Olympiads.

O'Reilly was separated from the rest of the team within hours of Thursday's story breaking and is now expected to fly home before Friday, his scheduled fight day.

It is, of course, not the first adverse drugs finding against an Irish competitor at the Olympics, the last one being in 2008 when Denis Lynch withdrew from the showjumping final in Hong Kong after his horse Lantinus tested positive for the banned substance, Capsaicin. Lynch claimed the substance was present in a cream, Equiblock, similar to Deep Heat, that he had put on the horse. That October, an FEI Tribunal suspended Lynch for three months.

Three months after the Athens Games in '04, it emerged that Cian O'Connor's gold medal winning mount Waterford Crystal tested positive for a banned substance, O'Connor also receiving a three-month ban. In that case, the FEI made a point of noting that he had not been guilty of any act designed to improve his horse's performance.

Prior to those Games, Irish runner Cathal Lombard was also banned after testing positive for a banned substance bought on the internet.


At the Atlanta Games in '96, 5,000m runner Claire McMahon failed a drugs test but was let off with a reprimand after it was found she may have ingested the prohibited substance from an over-the-counter cough bottle.

The difference between those other Olympic cases and O'Reilly's is that this time the test that uncovered the adverse finding was done in Ireland.

Of course, Ireland's most infamous drugs case involved Michelle Smith two years after she claimed three golds and a bronze at those Games in Atlanta. Found guilty of tampering with a sample that also showed up a steroid precursor, her swimming career was effectively ended by a subsequent four-year ban. Smith's Olympic feats, however, still stand in the history books.

Another Irish athlete, Geraldine Hendricken, received a two-year ban in '03 after an out-of-competition test showed that she had ingested the anabolic steroid, nandrolone. Hendricken claimed that it was as a result of a nutritional supplement she had purchased on the internet.

Ireland's record in this field, while not maybe in the state-sponsored league of Russia, China or the old East Germany, is far from auspicious then.

The OCI last night confirmed that O'Reilly would not now be contesting his suspension and would not be competing at these Games.

It was a cruel setback for his coach, IABA president Pat Ryan - who only arrived in Rio yesterday to support him and was visible in the crowd at last night's session in the Riocentro.

Yesterday's statement read that O'Reilly offered "his sincere apology to his fellow boxers, team-mates, the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, Sport Ireland, the Olympic Council of Ireland and to all those who supported him."

All concerned may consider such contrition a mite needlessly late.

Irish Independent

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