Positive Drug Tests at 2004 Olympics

Four horses that competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, have tested positive for banned substances, including a gold medal winner. The four positive horses are showjumping gold medal winner Waterford Crystal, ridden by Cian O'Connor and representing Ireland; showjumper Goldfever, ridden by Ludger Beerbaum and representing Germany; event horse Ringwood Cockatoo, ridden by Bettina Hoy and representing Germany; and event horse Foxy, ridden by Harald Riedl and representing Austria.

O'Connor told England's Horse and Hound, "I am fully aware of the FEI rules, and I know that I must take responsibility for any medication administered to my horse. I absolutely believe no performance-enhancing drugs were given to the horse."

James Sheeran, BVSc, veterinarian for Waterford Crystal, had given the horse a mild sedative during hydrotherapy treatment for a fetlock injury on July 22, 2004, but felt the drug residues should have dissipated over the month that passed before the horse competed in the Olympics.

A total of 40 horses were randomly sampled in Athens, which was 20% of the total number of competing horses at the games. All medal winners--both horses and riders--participated in mandatory drug testing. Blood and urine samples were taken from each horse. The fluids were then separated into A and B containers and sent to the FEI Central MCP Laboratory in Paris for analysis; only the A samples were used in this initial testing. "A and B are just two samples from the same source and taken at the same time. It is a backup and protection to the horse in case something happens to the first sample," says Jack Snyder, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, professor in the University of California, Davis' Department of Surgical and Radiologic Services and a director of the Olympic Veterinary Clinic that was operating in Athens during the Games.

The four samples that had positive results in Paris were then sent to the FEI legal department. The responsible persons for the positive horses were notified and allowed 10 days to request the B sample to be tested, as well as a request to have an oral hearing before the FEI Judicial Committee.

"Although lengthy, the medications hearing process is an intentionally thorough procedure and all countries and riders involved deserve to present their case," says John Long, Chief Executive Officer of the United States Equestrian Federation.
If the positive horses are still found to be in violation of FEI rules regarding illegal substances, then the riders must forfeit all medals received and are subject to a fine from the FEI, in addition to citations from the Olympic committee. Any dissemination of further information regarding the positive tests, including the type of substances that were found, was left up to the national governing body of equestrian sport in the competitors' countries.

"During the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the FEI tested 48 horses," said Frits Sluyter, DVM, head of the FEI veterinary department. "The tests were analyzed by the Sydney Reference laboratory. Four test results came back positive, but none of them were medaling horses."

Drug tests have evolved in recent years to identify more substances, and they can find smaller traces of substances in the horse's system. "The testing is getting better and better with the type of tests that are used," said Snyder. "Even in the four years from Sydney it has changed a lot."

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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