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Distance runner Shelby Houlihan vows to fight her four-year ban for a failed steroid test

US distance runner Shelby Houlihan is vowing to fight her four-year suspension from the sport due to a failed drug test that she claims is the result of a tainted pork burrito.

'I'm trying to seek every option that we can to appeal this,' Houlihan told Fox News on Wednesday. 'It's not right. I don't think I should be serving a four-year ban for something that I didn't do. We're trying to exhaust every option that we can.'

Houlihan said on Monday she had received a four-year ban for testing positive to an anabolic steroid but the American record-holder in the 1,500m and 5,000m denied she had knowingly taken a prohibited substance.

Just days before the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials are set to begin, the 28-year-old said in a written statement that the Athletics Integrity Unit informed her in January that a test showed an 'adverse analytical finding' for nandrolone.  

Houlihan, who won the 1,500m and 5,000m at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2019 and was considered a medal contender for the Tokyo Olympics, thought the positive result might have come from eating pork, which she said could lead to a false positive for nandrolone, the night before the test. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, the consumption of 'non-castrated male pork' can cause a spike in nandrolone levels.     

US distance runner Shelby Houlihan is vowing to fight her four-year suspension from the sport due to a failed drug test that she claims is the result of a pork burrito. 'I'm trying to seek every option that we can to appeal this,' Houlihan told Fox News on Wednesday. 'It's not right. I don't think I should be serving a four-year ban for something that I didn't do. We're trying to exhaust every option that we can'

Speaking with Fox News on Wednesday, Houlihan said she never tested positive for a banned substance in her life and has never even missed a test.

She then went on to explain how she could have failed the test by ingesting a burrito from Mexican food truck near her home in Beaverton, Oregon.

'From what I've been told nandrolone is high … pig offal has high concentrations of nandrolone,' she said. 'This food truck that I happened to go to that night – I've eaten there a lot before – and this food truck serves pig offal as part of their menu and I think I happened to ingest this hormone and 10 hours later, at the peak of when it's supposed to be in your body and you're digesting it, I happened to get tested and honestly it's a very unlucky series of events.

'I'm kinda blown away by what happened and I can't believe I'm going through this as a clean athlete.'

Although she will miss this year's Olympic trials, Houlihan said she believes she will eventually be vindicated.

'I'm putting all my trust in the process,' she said. 'I've tried to so far and honestly it's failed me. But I'm going to keep trusting that the truth will come out and that I will be able to compete in the coming years.

'I think I'm going to miss the trials this year unfortunately. I worked really hard and I'm in the best shape of my life right now but I'm trying to trust the process and hope that … I can get justice from this.'

Houlihan appeared with her attorney, Paul Greene, who said he wants the investigation to focus on his client's urine.

'Her urine was consistent with the consumption of pork that was containing high levels of nandrolone,' Greene said. 'We told this to the lab before her B-sample was tested. Under the rules they were supposed to account for it. When your urinary markers are where they were with Shelby's – in the very, very low range – it is impossible for the machine that does the testing to distinguish between these two.

'There's a way to do that called an atypical finding and that's what we think should have been done in Shelby's case and it wasn't.'

Houlihan, a former Arizona State star and a 12-time Division I All-American, claims she even passed a lie detector test.

'I did everything I could to prove my innocence,' she said in Monday's statement. 'I passed a polygraph test. I had my hair sampled by one of the world's foremost toxicologists.

'WADA agreed that test proved that there was no build up of this substance in my body, which there would have been if I were taking it regularly.

'Nothing moved the lab from their initial snap decision.'

WADA, which has not been involved in the case, did not have comment. Track and Field did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Houlihan, who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics but has not raced in 2021, said she learned on Friday that the Court of Arbitration for Sport had handed her the ban, dashing her hopes of competing in Tokyo or at the 2024 Paris Games.

'I feel completely devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed by the very sport that I've loved and poured myself into,' she wrote. 'I have never taken any performance enhancing substances.'

Four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan, who coaches at Houlihan's Bowerman Track Club, wrote on social media: 'We are living a nightmare that we can't seem to wake up from.

'If this is where the sport I love is headed, then I don't know if I can continue to be part of it,' wrote Flanagan. 'I refuse to believe this is acceptable and neither should you.'

Houlihan is certainly not the first athlete to blame a failed drug test on tainted meet. 

Boxer Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez blamed his 2018 positive test for clenbuterol on tainted Mexican beef. Testing agencies have even warned about clenbuterol, which has not actually been proven to increase muscle mass, but can help with weight loss. 

Several famous athletes have tested positive for nandrolone in the past, including Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Starling Marte, who received an 80-game suspension for the substance in 2017.

'We have thus proved that eating tissues of non-castrated male pork (in which 17beta-nandrolone is present) might induce some false accusations of the abuse of nandrolone in antidoping,' read an abstract on PubMed.Gov. 

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