5 OlympicsHelp Me Get To Tokyo!
I was in a collegiate environment and with a coach who wasn’t in a position to alter training sessions for me as a post-graduate. In college I was able to do everything but being in my late 30’s, early 40’s a greater emphasis was placed on recovery.
Neither my coach nor I understood this balance and as a result, I arrived at my Olympic trials broken down and nowhere near my best. Despite all this, I finished 3rd and missed my Olympic team by 1/10th of a second.
Literally the blink of an eye.
Unfortunately, the South African Olympic Committee and Swimming South Africa does not support their athletes
South African businesses are also only focusing on the countries top three sports, rugby, cricket and soccer. It is because of this reason I am asking for your help. I am hoping to put myself into a position where I will be able to live, train, recover, travel and compete as I gear up for the 2021 Olympic Games.
I believe with every single cell in my body that I can qualify and represent South Africa in Tokyo.
It is because of this belief that I have gone as far as contacting a German auction house and requested information about auctioning off my 3 Athens Olympic medals to help fund my preparation for the Olympics in 2021. Winning gold, silver and bronze in Athens was a highlight of my career. I am only the second South African in history to have won 3 medals at the Olympic games. I was also one of the very few people that won the entire set. It really has taken me a long time to accept and celebrate this accomplishment and feel very blessed to have been in this position.
As much as auctioning off these medals will bring me sadness, if I can get the money to help support this dream then I will do everything in my power to make it real.
This is ultimately the last resort for me but one I may very likely need to make in order to give myself the best opportunity to compete in Tokyo.
Dear followers and supporters,
you will by now know that the International Swimming Federation (FINA) applied a one-year suspension to me.
This resulted from testing an out-of-competition urine control sample on 18th May 2019, which tested positive for two metabolites of GW50516 (Cardarine) which is a hormone and metabolic regulator. The suspension ended on May 17th this year. I want to share the full story with you, so there’s clarity and because I’m very mindful of my responsibility as a role-model for younger swimmers.
As athletes, our bodies are our livelihood. And as is the norm, we all use a range of nutritional supplements to keep the body in the finest possible condition.
In May last year, I was taking a variety of supplements, all carefully selected, to avoid any possibility of inadvertently dosing on something not allowed. I was not at all concerned about providing a urine sample as I had been tested dozens of times previously, both in and out of competition, and all such tests had been negative for banned substances. I had tested negative for any such contamination in two tests before May 2019 and for two tests shortly after the one found to contain a trace of the substance. Regretfully, by the time FINA notified me of the positive test, there was none of that month’s supplement supply left.
I would never knowingly take a banned substance and much less a substance known to carry cancer, heart attack, and stroke risks. At my own expense, I paid for testing of new batches of the supplements I’d been taking, to track down the source of the problem. This proved to be unsuccessful.
I have never, in my decades of competition, taken performance-enhancing substances, and never would. The minimal concentration of Cardarine in my urine – just 1.3 nanograms – is confirmed by lab technicians and experts to indicate that this could have been caused by product contamination. The detection time for just one dose of Cardarine is up to forty days. So, had I been intentionally taking it, all five tests would have proved positive.
I have always aimed at retiring from competitive swimming one day, with an unblemished record. This incident has been personally devastating and very stressful because I can say with hand on heart, I have never knowingly taken any banned substance. Those who know me, know of my long-term commitment to clean sport.
To prevent any possible repeat of the situation I am now recording batch numbers and keeping a number of pills and powders aside, from whatever batch I take, so they can be independently tested should any sample abnormalities ever again be detected.
I used to think the world of illicit supplementing was straightforward. That you either took supplements or you didn’t. And frankly, I disbelieved other athletes when they claimed contamination. I now know from painful experience that it isn’t quite that simple.
At the FINA hearing, I pledged my support irrespective of what their sanction was. I asked FINA if I can assist in educating upcoming athletes on the real risks of taking supplements, as well as the safety measures we now know need to be in place. I’m also involved in the development of a supplement information app that will assist tested athletes in the future.
It remains my ambition to compete in the Olympics this year, if possible. My commitment to maintaining the highest standards of ethics and fairness in all sport remains undimmed.
WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) Decides To Appeal FINA Decision
On the 14th of May this year my Lawyer, Howard Jacobs informed me that WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) had decided to appeal FINA’s decision. I thought my fight was done but it seems like we’ve only just begun.
WADA has lodged their appeal with CAS (Court of Arbitration of Sport). It is their belief that the decision that the FINA panel made on a 1-year ban was not satisfactory enough and they are pushing for a 2 – 4-year ban.
There are many questions that do exist, Why wasn’t WADA at the original hearing?
According to lawyers, the reason is because of the financial component.
- How many athletes have had to accept suspensions because they weren’t in a financial position to defend themselves?
- How many athletes have been denied the right to fight for their innocence because they didn’t have the financial means to clear their names?
There is a significant discrepancy that exists between the powers that be and the athletes they are supposed to be representing. It is my experience and the experience of the vast majority of people that all things are not equal.
Governing bodies are afforded far more liberties than any of the athletes. When FINA acknowledged that they delayed my notification they were unable to explain exactly why that was. They also haven’t had to explain why there was a significant delay and they also haven’t been reprimanded or required to create an internal policy that would prevent this from happening to any other athlete in the future.
The fact that the US government is wanting to drop its funding from WADA indicates they are not happy with their current governance practices.
In reality, life isn’t fair and this hasn’t been a fair process.
There are some that believe that I took a banned supplement and got caught. That’s the reality and I understand it, I get it.
I felt this way before about others that tested positive I judged others unfairly because of my own biases that existed. I’ve judged others unfairly in many avenues of life without fully knowing what they had been through and this has been an incredibly important lesson that I have learnt through this entire process.
I reserve my judgement until I know all the facts.
Throughout the experience, I’ve been fortunate that many athletes have messaged me privately to convey their support. Swimmers I’ve raced against, other athletes and individuals all reached out to show me they supported this.
I’m incredibly grateful they did.
There were some who I’d hoped would reach out and never did. In moments like that, it became clear that the friendships and bonds weren’t as strong as I had believed and that was ok.
It gave me clarity and the ability to move on.
Then there were others that I had not heard from in years and had never expected to hear from that reached out.
To them, I am even more thankful because I may have written them off. They showed their true colours when I needed it.
What concerns me is that swimmers and other athletes are concerned to voice their opinion publicly.
I get it. There is so much scrutiny that exists and almost everyone just wants to avoid any unnecessary attention.
I reached out to several swimmers asking if they’d share a testimony on their experience of testing positive while using a contaminated substance and having to fight for their freedom and to clear their name. The sad thing is for every 1 athlete who has had the means to defend themselves against FINA or WADA there are significantly more that have absolutely no financial means to fight something they aren’t and haven’t ever been guilty of.
Federations and governing bodies have a seemingly endless supply of financial assistance yet athletes who have actually fallen victims to a highly unregulated supplement industry have to accept bans because they just cannot afford to try and clear their names.
I also get that athletes are responsible for what they put in their bodies. I have tried my utmost for over 20 years to read every label, research every product, confer with strength coaches, swim coaches, doctors, etc to ensure that the supplements I was taking were legal. (An example that comes to mind although maybe not entirely appropriate for us right now is, how many times have you eaten at a restaurant? 100’s if not 1000’s of times, well. There shouldn’t be hair in your food. You look at the menu, look at what’s to eat, choose your main course with all the sides, etc, while you may have heard of it happening in the past, you really don’t expect or even believe it’ll happen to you. You get your meal, you have a look, take a sniff, then you bite in, the first couple of bites are delicious, you’re absolutely loving your meal, the best thing you’ve had in weeks. Then all of a sudden you feel it, it’s on your tongue, between your teeth. There’s a long hair in your food that should never have been there. As I said, I’m not sure its appropriate or relevant for us and what we are trying to convey but its something I feel is similar in a couple of ways)
One of my biggest concerns is that there are many innocent athletes that have absolutely no platform or support structure in place to assist them in the event something horrible like a positive test happens while consuming a contaminated supplement. I get that there is doping that exists, I don’t dispute that at all. I think we need to be very careful when there are significant differences that exist in someone’s test results when they “dope” intentionally versus when they have consumed something that has been cross-contaminated.
Clenbuterol is a substance that renders a positive test. The catch now is that it is a growth-promoting substance that is fed to cattle, pork, lamb and poultry)
If you live in any one of a number of these countries and you just happen to eat steak etc that has consumed clenbuterol, you personally risk testing positive. There are a significant amount of articles out on clenbuterol and positive drug tests
By Wada’s own admission
“In 2011, Wada released a statement clarifying that “there is no threshold under which this substance is not prohibited”. However, they also admitted, “it is possible that under certain circumstances the presence of a low level of clenbuterol in an athlete sample can be the result of food contamination”.
There really is so much to talk about on this topic. The unfairness that does exist. I don’t quite know how much people want to hear about it without thinking I’m just trying to defend myself.
The reality is WADA is appealing the decision that FINA made after we presented all our facts before a panel in Lausanne, Switzerland.
FINA based on everything we presented believed that a 1-year sanction was enough.
We presented enough evidence to show them that I did everything possible in my power to mitigate the ingestion of a banned substance. They also understood the fact that there was a significant delay in notifying me of the positive test. This delay in notification directly affected my ability to test the supplements I was taking at and before the positive test occurred. (as you know from taking supplements, if you are asked right now to provide samples of all your supplements from 2 months ago you most likely wouldn’t be able to as they’d all be finished. Most supplements are between 15 – 30 doses.) WADA also expects athletes to keep a significant record of exactly what they’re taking and have been taking. Unfortunately they provide no education or support to the athletes on this matter. I have never, nor has any athlete I have personally known ever been told to keep a significant record of what they’ve taken, and to store that for a period of time after use to ensure they have not consumed anything that contains a banned substance.
If you take 20 supplements a month and you keep a record for 6 months. That is 120 samples that you have kept. To test 1 (One) supplement costs $550. That is $66,000 you will need to spend in order to test everything you’ve consumed. Median personal income in the US is $31,099 per year (according to wikipedia).
I spent $16,000 testing the supplements that I did still have.
I wasn’t afforded the right to test everything that I was taking at the time.
My legal fees in trying to prove my innocence was over $50,000. I no longer have money to fight this battle. I don’t, WADA has an endless supply for them I and many other athletes represent an inconvenience more than anything else. In order to continue fighting and to once again prove my innocence to CAS (Court of Arbitration of sport) my legal fees are going to be $30,000+. I am choosing to fight because I am innocent because I have spent my entire career working incredibly hard. I have never, nor would I ever intentionally consume a banned substance in order to improve my performance.
Many people don’t know the story of how I got to have the best start in the world. Most don’t ask…
Most people are for “the” secret to a perfect start. Well, when I was 16 I knew if I wanted to be the best in the world I needed to work on my start. I was losing so much ground off my start and it was such a weak area for me I needed to improve it. What happened next? I bought a swimming world magazine after the swimming world magazine and read and studied.
I taped the 1996 Olympic games and watched the 50m and 100m freestyle over and over and over again. I bought 5 odd vis tapes from the US and studied everything that was happening, how others were starting. What was their technique? Then I would drag my sister to the willow ridge high school swimming pool and have her record no less than 20 stars. Then I would go home. Plug the video recorder into our tv and I would watch what I was doing over and over and over. I would compare my start to the best in the world. I was searching for a feeling, a certain look or position on and off the blocks and I wouldn’t stop until I did.
If my sister wouldn’t come to the pool with me I’d take a tripod. If the pool was closed I would use the ledge of the swimming pool at our home in Pretoria. The quest to be the best in the world was something I invested thousands of hours into. That has always been my approach to any component of my life. I will work, I will study, I will research and repeat over and over again. I am a perfectionist in every sense when it comes to my preparation. The piece above where I spoke about missing out in 2016. It was no different. When I was younger I could get away with thousands of repetitions, but as I got older it was difficult to find the balance between perfection and recovery. I have never stopped working my fucking ass off. I have not believed in taking short cuts. I have balked when anyone has asked me for “the secret tip” because I know it doesn’t exist.
To believe that a highly detectable, cancer-causing substance that has never been clinically tested in human beings is more appealing than over proven methodologies like, mobility, psychology and brain training, breathwork, meditation, etc etc etc is just an absolute joke. (Once again I feel I am needing to prove my innocence. There are some who have and will always believe I am guilty. At this point in my life, I’m ok with that. I understand we are all guilty of living lives where we have confirmation biases that exist.)
I want to compete in the Olympics in 2021.
That would be an incredible achievement. To be the first South African to compete in 5 Olympic games.
While the Olympics is the “End of the journey” that is not the only reason I want to continue swimming. I want to continue swimming because it is my passion. I forgot that for a very long period of time. I became jaded, forgot why I was doing it.
It took my missing the Olympics in 2016 and spending time away from the sport to realize how miserable I’d actually been for the last several years before missing the team in 2016. I was doing it because I believed I had to, because I wanted money because I believed it was all I was good at. My identity became so ingrained in what I was doing and not who I actually was.
It took a significant time worth of soul searching, introspection and reflection to realize swimming was/is something I do. It is not who I am. There’s a great quote that says “Failure is an event, not a person” Well i believed for the longest time that “failure” was me. Swimming for me now is about so much more than just the olympics, it is about enjoying the “journey”, about the pain, about the growth, about the travel, about the friendships. It’s about enjoying racing again, about approaching racing and competition like a kid again. Wide eyed and so in awe about how spectacular the opportunity is. I got to the point where I took all of that for granted. Where I became very much entitled in many ways as it pertains to my swimming. I recognize that about myself. It took a while and I may not necessarily be proud of myself for that, but I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to learn and grow and to be able to recognize that I wasn’t happy.
Is 40 too old?
Too old for what?
Age in my eyes has always been relative and something far too many people use as an excuse. When you’re 6 you think 12-year-olds are “old”. When you’re 15, you think 20-year-olds are “old”.
There are so many people who are getting older that are so afraid of failing, they fear it for any number of personal reasons. They use this fear as a reason not to try. Not to try learn to play an instrument, to get fit, to start a new relationship.
Whatever it may be so many people use their age as an excuse. Do you know why I love Gary Player? Here is an incredible man that takes care of himself, that exercises everyday, that believes that he can and will go on forever. Age is irrelevant for him. Intention, belief and determination are what matters to him.
I want to help show others that are “old” that it is never too late to try and achieve something you may believe is impossible, that others around you may deem as impossible. If you want to try something, experience something, learn something then fuck what anyone else thinks or believes. It doesn’t matter what they think or believe.
What matters is what you want, what you believe, how you see yourself.
Others belittle your dreams and goals because there is a part of them that fears going after their own. If they can prevent you from going out and succeeding at your dreams, well they won’t have a mirror to reflect the belief of inadequacy that exists within them.