Brett Clothier, head of the Athletics Integrity Unit, said Houlihan’s case was handled properly according to guidance from the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“After being charged by the AIU, Ms. Houlihan’s case was heard by a three-member panel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which made its decision after hearing evidence and arguments from the athlete’s lawyers and the AIU,” Clothier said in an email. The Court of Arbitration for Sport, he added, informed his agency that it planned to share its grounds for upholding the suspension soon.
Houlihan made her first Olympic team in 2016, when she placed 11th in the women’s 5,000-meter final. In July 2020, during an intrasquad club meet, she improved her American record with a time of 14 minutes 23.92 seconds in the 5,000 meters. At the 2019 world championships, she ran the 1,500 meters in 3:54.99, for fourth place and an American record.
Houlihan is not the first athlete to blame positive tests on things that are clearly not performance-enhancing drugs. Some athletes have tested positive for traces of banned substances in antidepressants, different types of meat and even from substances transmitted through sex.
In 2018, the boxer Saul Álvarez, nicknamed Canelo, blamed tainted meat for his positive tests for clenbuterol, a drug that can be used to increase muscle mass and reduce body fat. He was suspended for six months, delaying a lucrative rematch with Gennady Golovkin.
For Houlihan, the four-year suspension disqualifies her from the 2022 world championships, which were scheduled near where she lives in Eugene. In her Instagram post, she said she wanted to clearly state that she had “never taken any performance enhancing substances.”
“I believe in the sport and pushing your body to the limit just to see where the limit is,” she added. “I’m not interested in cheating.”