A Sacramento cyclist on Thursday became the first U.S. athlete to be suspended from competition because of a positive test for the synthetic hormone EPO.
Adam Sbeih, 30, the 2003 U.S. champion in the 4,000-meter individual pursuit, tested positive for the banned performance-enhancing substance Aug. 26 at the U.S. Cycling Federation's elite track national competition at Trexlertown, Pa.
He was suspended for two years from the date of the test and forfeits his results from that meet. In practice, the suspension will prove moot. Because the positive test made it too tough for Sbeih to land a sponsor, he announced his retirement last month from competitive cycling.
Nonetheless, his attorney, Howard Jacobs of Westlake Village, said: "Obviously, we're disappointed."
The case arose amid close scrutiny of U.S. anti-doping authorities in the aftermath of widely publicized cases involving other substances, including the designer steroid called THG and the stimulant modafinil, both linked to top track and field athletes around the world.
EPO boosts red blood cell production. That enables athletes to train longer and harder, and to recover more quickly from any injury. Before the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, EPO was reputed to be the cheaters' drug of choice, particularly in endurance events, because until then it had been undetectable.
Sbeih has consistently maintained he has no idea how the substance came to be in his body. The substance typically is injected. Olympic-style doping rules, however, rest on a theory called "strict liability," meaning an athlete is liable if a banned substance is in his or her system, no matter how it got there, whether knowingly or not.
The suspension, which will be carried out by USA Cycling, followed a hearing before a three-member arbitration panel. It concluded in part that the methodology used by the Olympic-accredited lab at UCLA for testing EPO was scientifically sound and the results produced by the lab's tests were reliable.
An adverse finding carried the potential to throw UCLA's testing program -- and by extension, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency -- into disarray. Terry Madden, USADA's chief executive, said in a statement, "This decision should reassure all clean athletes that USADA and science are on their side, and that we are making significant strides through research and the application of science to eliminate drug use from sport."