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Starykowicz suspended, ordered to pay back Ironman prize money for positive test

Ironman bike-record holder will be eligible to return to racing on January 1, 2021

Photo by: Talbot Cox

American triathlete Andrew Starykowicz will be ineligible to compete until January 1, 2021 after receiving a two-year suspension (since amended to just under 13 months) for illegal use of Vilanterol, a Beta-2 Agonist that is found in the Breo Ellipta inhaler.

Starykowicz, who holds the record for the fastest bike split at an Ironman event (3:54:59 at Ironman Texas in 2018), had to pull out of last year’s Ironman World Championship due to illness. Diagnosed with “viral pneumonitis and mucopurulent bronchitis” by a doctor in Chicago, he was prescribed a series of drugs that are banned – Medrol and Vilanterol.

According to the sanction decision posted by Ironman, Starykowicz applied for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) to be able to compete while taking the drugs. Despite being told by the US Anti-doping Agency (USADA) that his TUE was still pending and that if he were to compete before the TUE was granted he would be “committing an anti-doping offence,” Starykowicz competed at Ironman 70.3 Waco (he finished second) and Ironman Florida (he was fourth).

Six days after he competed at Ironman Florida his TUE application for Medrol was approved, but his application for Vilanterol (the substance found in the Breo inhaler) was denied.

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Starykowicz press release from Ironman

On December 5 Starykowicz was notified by Ironman that his post-race doping control test from Florida returned an adverse analytical finding for vilanterol.

Starykowicz asked that USADA review the denial of his Vilanterol TUE that same day – a week later the organization confirmed the denial. On December 13 Ironman charged Starykowicz with an anti-doping rule violation, but he raced at Challenge Daytona the next day. Starykowicz made a final appeal to the USADA Medical Review Board on December 20 – on January 14 USADA once again confirmed its denial of the TUE application for the Breo inhaler.

Starykowicz appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in March – in August the court also denied the appeal.

One of the key factors in the denial of the TUE was the fact that alternative treatments were available that wouldn’t have included banned substances. The independent arbitrator who wrote the statement posted on the Ironman site, Mark Muedeking, pointed out that:

“The Athlete’s false sense of confidence was based on a negligent misreading of one sentence in a WADA document and his failure to read the second sentence and turn the page to see a full description of permitted therapeutic alternatives. His wife reached the same erroneous conclusion with respect to a permitted alternative, Advair, when she failed to scroll down two more lines on her phone to see that Advair was permitted in a therapeutic dose. The failure of this professional athlete to read the relevant materials cannot be excused as insignificant.”

Meudeking’s decision means that Starykowicz will be disqualified from Ironman Florida, Ironman 70.3 Waco and Challenge Daytona, and he will be required to pay back the $6,500 in prize money from Florida and $2,750 from Waco. Because  vilanterol will be removed from the WADA prohibited list in 2021, Ironman has agreed that the two-year suspension would end on January 1, 2021.

Starykowicz has posted a blog on his website about the sanction – you can read it here – in which he argues that he “was sick and needed medication – that was NOT performance enhancing.”