The news that Andrew Starykowicz receieved a 13-month suspension for using a banned inhaler has polarized the triathlon community.
What many find especially ironic is that the American star, renowned as one of the sport’s premier cyclists, decried the use of a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) as “doping” in an interview with Bob Babbitt on “Breakfast with Bob” on October 8, 2019. (His comments begin at the 14-minute point of the video.)
“I consider doping is anything that is, like a TUE, a therapeutic use exemption,” Starykowicz said. “If you have anemia and you’re training so hard and you’re so overtrained that you need a red blood cell booster to keep training hard, that’s a problem. If you have asthma that is so bad that you have to use a steroid inhaler just to breath, you shouldn’t be racing. We need to do away with the therapeutic use exemption …”
In the interview Starykowicz goes on to suggest that there should only be lifetime bans for doping offences, and that “I’m racing a couple of guys who are chemists, not athletes. They’re going out there and living in the grey area, or they are doing stuff that is blatantly cheating and they’re getting away with it.”
Starykowicz ended up getting sick and wasn’t able to compete at the Ironman World Championship last year. On October 15, a week after making those comments, Starykowicz saw a doctor in Chicago and was diagnosed with pneumonits, according to a blog post on his website. “I was prescribed 28 days of a Breo inhaler and a 5 day Medrol dose pack,” he wrote.
“For the first time in my 15 year career I filed a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) stating if I were to get well enough I intended on competing in 70.3 Waco (12 days out) and Ironman Florida (18 days out),” he continued. “My doctor filled out the medical information for the TUE marking it “Acute” and faxed the TUE to USADA on October 15.”
As we reported, Starykowicz was told by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that his TUE was pending and that if he were to compete before the TUE was granted he would be “committing an anti-doping offence.” Despite that warning, he raced at Ironman 70.3 Waco and Ironman Florida, where his post-race doping control test came back positive for vilanterol, a banned substance.
Triathlon Magazine Canada reached out to Starykowicz about his comments. As a reply to the question “During your interview with Bob Babbitt in Kona last year you were very outspoken about TUEs, yet not long after you ended up applying for one. Do you have a different take on the TUE process now?” Starykowicz replied: “No, system’s still broken.”
Starykowicz declined to answer questions on why he raced in Waco and Florida despite not having an approved TUE for his medication, and what he would like to see changed in the current anti-doping system, saying that he would address those questions in future blog posts.