Lizzie Armitstead has vowed to hold her head high in the Rio Olympics on Sunday after citing “incredibly difficult” family circumstances as the reason she came close to an anti-doping ban.
The 27-year-old world champion, who will feature in the road race on Sunday, said on Tuesday that she was “naive” in not challenging her first missed drugs test until the threat of a two-year suspension loomed large.
And, in a further lengthy statement released yesterday, the Yorkshire cyclist said that, after missing two earlier tests, personal circumstances dictated that she missed a third in June – an incident that put her participation in Rio in doubt before she was cleared by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Since being cleared to compete after a provisional suspension on 11 July, Armitstead has faced awkward questions and raised eyebrows from other athletes. But she concluded her 1,275-word statement by saying: “I love sport and the values it represents. It hurts me to consider anybody questioning my performances.
“Integrity is something I strive for in every part of my life. I will hold my head high in Rio and do my best for Great Britain, I am sorry for causing anyone to lose faith in sport, I am an example of what hard work and dedication can achieve. I hate dopers and what they have done to sport.”
Armitstead used the statement as an attempt to draw a line under the episode by clearly laying out the circumstances behind each of her three “strikes” and outlining her clean credentials. “I love my sport, but I would never cheat for it,” she said.
Athletes must be available at a clear location for a nominated hour every day for testing. Three whereabouts failures (or strikes) in a 12-month period can lead to a two-year ban.
Armitstead appealed against the first “strike” at CAS – UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) had dismissed an initial appeal – only after receiving a third, which happened on 9 June, 2016, during a “traumatic time”.
Armitstead says she had slept in the location advised, but had forgotten to change her nominated time slot. She was not prepared to declare publicly what the family circumstances were.
“My personal family circumstances at the time of the test were incredibly difficult,” she said. “The medical evidence provided in my case was not contested by UKAD. They accepted the circumstances I was in. UKAD did not perceive my situation to be ‘extreme’ enough to alleviate me of a negligence charge. A psychiatrist assessment of my state of mind at the time was contrary.
“In my defence I was dealing with a traumatic time and I forgot to change a box on a form. I am not a robot, I am a member of a family – my commitment to them comes over and above my commitment to cycling.”
Armitstead last month challenged her first “strike” – on 20 August, 2015 while she was in Sweden ahead of a race – at CAS. The court declared it void after ruling UKAD’s doping control officer (DCO) had not followed procedure. UKAD is awaiting the reasoned decision from CAS. UKAD had dismissed a complaint from Armitstead, she says.
She said: “UKAD are allowed a maximum of two weeks to inform you of a ‘strike’. When I received the letter from UKAD I immediately contested it with a written explanation, this was not accepted on the eve of me travelling to America for my world championships. I had no legal advise or external support at the time.”
Armitstead said her mobile phone was on silent, so as not to disturb a team-mate, and that UKAD do not approve calls as a method of locating an athlete. This is because it could alert them to an imminent test.
She added: “The DCO didn’t do what was reasonable or necessary to find me. I was tested the next day, this test was negative. Put simply I was available and willing to provide a sample for UKAD.”
Following her second strike, on 5 October, 2015 – for an administrative error – she received bi-weekly whereabouts support from a member of British Cycling’s support staff, who has since left his role.