Doping ban still raises questions after 28 years

Photo: Yuan 2003

Photo: Yuan2003/Flickr

18.04.2016

By Stine Alvad
Belgian runner Ria Van Landeghem was banned for doping prior to the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Now, doping researchers claim that the ban was given on false grounds.

(Updated 18 April 2016)

Few days before the 1988 Seoul Olympics began, Belgian marathon runner Ria Van Landeghem was called in for a pre-competition doping test by the then Belgian chef de Mission, Jacques Rogge. Her test, carried out in the Olympic lab in South Korea, came out positive for Oxandrolone, an anabolic steroid, and Van Landeghem had to go back home without competing.

The positive test resulted in a two-year ban, a decision that Van Landeghem immediately appealed. Because of a number of procedural reasons in the testing situation and in the handling of the test results, the Appeals Committee of the Flemish Athletics League (VAL) and the International Athletics Associans Federation (IAAF) lifted her ban. According to the Belgian Olympic and Interfederal Committee (BOIC), however, Van Landeghem is still considered guilty of doping.

To clear her name, Van Landeghem has now initiated a campaign. Through her search of information, Van Landeghem has found several things that indicate to her that the process of her pre-Olympic test was not conducted in compliance with standards, including the right to have a respresentative present at the B sample testing.

Three independent doping researches back up her case. According to Professor Emeritus Frans Delbeke, former head of the IOC lab in Ghent, Professor Douwe de Boer, from the IOC labs in Lisbon and Utrecht, and Klaas Faber, independent doping researcher, Van Landeghem’s doping test was not taken and/or analysed according to standard practices.

Professor de Boer, who did similar tests at the time at the IOC lab in Utrecht, was commissioned to look into the case and his analysis shows that although sample A shows a small amount of the steroid, the B-sample does not qualify to declare the test positive.

“.. [W]ith up-to-date awareness by looking back in time, it must be regrettably acknowledged and admitted, that sometimes certain serious mistakes of insufficient proof were made in those days.[…] This case is an example of one of those mistakes,” de Boer writes in his report on the Van Landeghem case.

With reports from the three researches, who all argue that there was no evidence to declare her doping test positive, the Belgian runner took her case to VAL asking them to clear her name. VAL sent her request to the Flemish Doping Tribunaal (VDT). The doping tribunal recently declined to take any decisions in the case.

At the moment, Van Landeghem is still awaiting an official answer to the new findings on her case as presented by the three experts and she plans to contact both VAL and the BOIC.

"For years I suffered,” Van Landeghem said to Belgian newspaper De Standaard. “It took me a long time to process that blow. I cannot work in sports, guiding young people for example, because I carry a stigma with me. I want my name cleared."

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