Getting the jump on doping

STEVEN NOBLE

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

Equestrian show-jumpers swear their sport is not infected by the plague ravaging baseball and cycling.

Still, the numbers are raising eyebrows around the sporting world.

At the Beijing Olympics seven show-jumping horses tested positive for banned substances.

Even Canadian star Eric Lamaze, who doesn't think cheating is an issue, admits that if the Olympic charges hold up, it is indeed a sign of a problem.

The question is whether the problem is doping, denial of doping, or the testing system itself.

It's not often seven athletes in one event, in one competition test positive.

Clearly, something doesn't add up.

Dr. Wayne Burwash, president of the Alberta Veterinary Commission and head of Spruce Meadows testing operations, has been testing competition horses for more than 30 years.

Burwash has watched the evolution of the doping industry -- the chemicals and the technology -- with a close eye.

He doesn't believe most of these positive tests are cases of riders trying to cheat.

"The capsaicin is the prime thing, which came up at the Olympics and it's something that's been used quite widely for some time," Burwash says.

Capsaicin is a liniment derived from hot chili peppers, explains Burwash.

While it was historically used as an anti-inflammatory, it also creates a heightened sensitivity in a horse's skin.

The result can add extra pop to the horse's jump as it makes an extra effort to avoid touching an obstacle.

"It was generally thought to be innocuous.

"Then all of a sudden the lab in Hong Kong has the testing procedures refined enough they were picking it up."

"The FEI is trying to harmonize all the testing, but it's pretty difficult because these tests are very, very sensitive and scientifically very complicated.

"So to be sure that every technician in every lab is doing the procedure exactly the same is a pretty tough thing to govern."

Burwash also noted some products are legal at the national level, but banned internationally.

Legendary U.S. rider and Olympic gold medallist Beezie Madden finds comfort in knowing the testing is vigilant.

She has no problem with cheaters being caught and disciplined.

But she does have a contention when results are accepted absolutely.

Her own career was briefly touched by controversy several years ago when she took Sudafed, which had recently been legalized.

Madden said the Sudafed had a chemical reaction in her system that actually created another banned chemical, which showed up in her urine.

The second-all-time earnings leader at Spruce Meadows had to fight tooth-and-nail to prove the banned substance was incidental.

Madden was cleared, but she worries about young athletes who may not have the means to pursue an in-depth legal investigation.

"Stuff like that is really bad. They need to find a happy medium.

"The testing has become so sophisticated that the zero tolerance should be thrown out."

Burwash, however, believes the onus is on the riders to diligently check each product used on their horse.

If not, they've nobody to blame but themselves.

Perhaps it'll be like U.S. rider, Courtney King's situation.

King was disqualified at the Olympics when her horse showed traces of the banned substance felbinac.

Madden, who is close with King, says King has no clue how it could have happened and is currently pursuing recourse, hoping to prove something, as Madden did.

Or perhaps it'll be someone such as Irish rider Denis Lynch, who openly admitted to using a product with capsaicin in Beijing.

Somehow Lynch was baffled by his disqualification even though the liniment, Equi-Block, which he was using, was labelled "contains capsaicin" and "will not test positive," right on the container.

Former world number one and one of the most successful riders to ever compete at Spruce Meadows, Rodrigo Pessoa, saw his horse Rufus' B-sample test positive this weekend.

"I think sometimes it's the sensitivity of the test, but I don't think it's a big deal," Lamaze says.

"I think if it's a tranquillizer in a horse then that's a big deal, but as a rider I don't feel they were cheating. I don't think it's at that magnitude," he said.

" I don't know exactly what they were using, but on a competition level I don't think it would make much of a difference, honestly."


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