U.S. bobsledder Ryan Bailey was banned for two years for what he contends was an inadvertent doping violation, ending the former track and field medallist ‘s bid to compete in the Pyeongchang Olympics.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport publicly announced the ruling Friday, agreeing with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s stance that a six-month ban Bailey served earlier this year was not enough.
Bailey was part of the U.S. team that won a silver medal in the 4×100-meter relay at the London Games in 2012. That medal was stripped years later following the doping conviction of relay teammate Tyson Gay. Bailey, still angry about forfeiting that silver, turned to bobsledding last year with hopes of getting back to the Olympics.
"I feel terrible for the guy," said U.S. bobsled driver Nick Cunningham, who was racing with Bailey this season and won a World Cup silver medal with him last month in Lake Placid, New York. "He pretty much has to go through it twice. He was cleared and was extremely close to the Olympic Games and now has to go through it all over again. All that hard work for nothing."
Bailey took a supplement in January that included dimethylbutylamine, a banned stimulant that has been shown to raise blood pressure. The American Arbitration Association said Bailey had a "light degree of fault" when it ruled this year his suspension should be for six months, after accepting his explanation that the positive test was triggered by his usage of a high risk dietary supplement.
Bailey served that suspension, which ended July 9.
The stimulant that Bailey took was not on the label of the supplement, though another banned product was listed as an ingredient. USADA took the case to CAS, a hearing was held in Los Angeles earlier this week, and Bailey’s Olympic hopes ended not long afterward.
"I was disappointed to find out that his suspension got extended," USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele said. "He’s a good kid, but he made a mistake. And when you make mistakes, you have to pay a price. We think, given the circumstances, that the price is excessive in this case. He’s got the potential to be one of the best push athletes we’ve ever seen in the sport and I hope we see him back."
There are examples of U.S. athletes getting six-month suspensions from USADA after positive tests for dimethylbutylamine. Some suspensions have also been of the two-year variety, like the one Bailey must now serve — with credit for the six months already served.
"In this case, Mr. Bailey used such a product listing a prohibited stimulant on the label of the product without apparently even looking at the label," USADA said in a statement. "Consequently, USADA’s appeal was required to uphold the fair, consistent and predictable application of the rules for all athletes."
Bailey actually found out about the ruling by the top court in international sports during a race Thursday in Park City, Utah. He was in a four-man North American Cup competition, as part of the sled driven by Cunningham, and the team was told after the first of two heats that Bailey was ineligible to continue. Bailey was replaced in Cunningham’s sled by Carlo Valdes for the second run, and the team slipped from first place to second place in the final standings.
Doping news has been a constant in the sliding world this season already, headlined by the International Olympic Committee ordering Russia to forfeit three golds and a bronze medal won at the 2014 Sochi Games in bobsled and skeleton.
"With everything going on around the world regarding doping, I think USADA is making an example out of him," Cunningham said.
Bailey’s story endeared him to his U.S. bobsled teammates quickly after he tried the sport for the first time last year.
As a teenager, Bailey had been a gang member and spent some time living in a car with his mother. He struggled in school, survived three stabbings and endured a severe beating as his price to escape the gang. He didn’t even compete in track and field until his sophomore year of high school.
The medal he won in London was stripped in 2015, and he tried bobsledding a year later – saying he was immediately hooked on the adrenalin that comes with going 80 mph.
"We feel bad for him because he feels so bad for us," Cunningham said. "We had built great team chemistry over the past few months and were one of the best pushing teams in the world."