At the recent Ironman 70.3 European Championships in Wiesbaden, Gemany Lisa Hütthaler apologized to Tamsin Lewis, Annabel Luxford, Daniela Ryf and Catriona Morrison for transgressions of the past. These Pros suggested then that she should state her regrets and apology more publicly and Lisa decided to talk to us about her regrets and how she is a changed person.
Slowtwitch: Lisa, the season so far went well, but now you have a bit of a family break. Is that correct?
Lisa Hütthaler: I always enjoy being home with my family in between travels and races abroad. I live with my mom and my son in a house with horses, a dog and a cat. At home I can fully rest, devote myself to my son Nico, and gain strength from that experience. But I still do 2 daily workouts and during that time my mom or Nico's dad watches him.
ST: You have won 70.3 St. Pölten, 70.3 Haugesund and 70.3 Mallorca and had other successes this year and one would think that you would be quite content.
Lisa: I am very thankful and happy that I can experience this special sporting year. It isn't something that was expected. Mallorca was the most surprising victory because I absolutely did not count on it nor was I ready to be on the very top of the podium. St. Pölten was the most emotional win because family and friends were right with me. It is my home race and I only live an hour away. The Norway race was the toughest and cost me the most in terms of a physical toll. Most likely because I was not recovered from the other 2 races.
ST: Wiesbaden was even tougher I would suspect and you finished 5th there, but Wiesbaden likely has another meaning for you. You had a conversation with Tamsin Lewis after the race.
Lisa: The race in Wiesbaden was harder as I noticed after all the other tough events that I wasn't rested enough and I bonked during the bike segment. The training leading up to the race I was likely overly motivated and trained harder and with more volume - and that backfired. But after the conversation with Tamsin and all the other placed females I did not only forget the 5th place, but I experienced something more important, beautiful and cathartic.
ST: How did that conversation actually come up?
Lisa: During a climb on the bike around 40k Tamsin and I were together. Deep inside me has been the desire to contact her and other athletes, but I was hesitant because I feared rejection. I always looked for a quiet personal moment where I would be alone - in this case with Tamsin. And then I told her during the race that I am very sorry about my past, that I am now a different person, have a son now who means everything to me, that I can't change my past and this all occurred more than 5.5 years ago. Everything that I did is still sitting heavy on my shoulders, but I have changed. We then continued that conversation after we finished. I then told her again with tears in my eyes that I am very sorry about all of that and that I have changed indeed. The best thing about it was that I wasn't rejected. That to me was the most emotional moment of this whole season.
ST: And why now?
Lisa: I understand my mistakes, have processed them and went through a long learning and changing process that made me into the person that I am now. I know what matters in life, my child, my safe environment, my strong psyche, my harmonious personal life and the sport. But I don't see the sport as uptight as before and can be happy for the success of others. All that makes a happy life today.
ST: The biggest critique about you has been that you have spoken very obtuse about what happened back then and that you apparently did not comprehend the seriousness of the situation. Why now the change to the 'New Lisa?'
Lisa: What happened was more than 5.5 years ago. Back then I think I did indeed not comprehend the seriousness of the situation and made even more silly mistakes. If I would meet the Lisa from back then today I am not sure if I could deal with her. I can't make these mistakes go away, but I can apologize honestly to each athlete, promoter, sponsor and fan. Maybe people can also understand that have learned a bit in that time. I want to be completely open and show that I now use honest and fair methods to compete in this sport. I think, live, train, eat and am very different than before. But I won't judge anyone who can't forgive my past - I understand that too. But it should be all about real facts and nothing fictitious should be added.
ST: Would you explain what you mean with fictitious stuff added?
Lisa: I used EPO back then and admitted such, and was subsequently handed an 18-month ban. In the often-quoted Spiegel interview I said that I also used testosterone. That though is not true, because I was kind of cheated in that regard. In the numerous court cases surrounding Stefan Matschiner and the related investigations it came out that the products actually were plant based homeopathic products, which did not include testosterone. The accusation that I have an advantage today because of the previously used products is absurd though, because especially EPO does not have a beneficial long-term effect, it is mostly the opposite. Otherwise WADA would not just give a 2-year ban. Some people though think they know more und spread these rumors, often anonymous via social media networks. Few have actually taken the time to look closer at this topic, and many just think if the say the same thing over and over it will become the truth. The most absurd comments come from folks who have only heard or read about me and have never spoken a word with me.
ST: In Wiesbaden you also talked to a few other athletes about your past. How did Luxford and the others respond?
Lisa: After we finished Tamsin called Annabel over. I was able to congratulate her to the 2nd place and it was again a tearful situation as I also apologized to her for the mistakes of my past. I was hugged and I wanted to say so much but I was speechless. I also personally apologized to Catriona Morrison, the race winner Daniela Ryf and also Anja Dittmer, and at least these competitors accepted my apology and assured me of that.
ST: Is it surprising for you that this doping story is still hovering above you?
Lisa: No, I knew that a comeback would bring with it critique and rejection and that I would be viewed based on words and deeds from the past. I was prepared for that. But I now ask for a bit of trust that I am now working with fair and honest methods and I want to lay everything out in the open. Thus I emailed Tamsin during the awards my test results. (updated with current results, but blood and urine from Wiesbaden still not there)
ST: They way I understand it, as you started racing again you had difficulties to get into the biological passport program. Can you explain that?
Lisa: Last year I actually won the Austrian National Championships over Olympic Distance. Back then I already had a license of the federation and attempted to be included in the ADAMS (WADA's Anti-Doping Administration and Management System) system, but I was not accepted. The same (no entry) happened this year too. I then contacted Wilhelm Lilge a big Austrian doping enemy, who answered some anti-doping questions of mine. Three days after my win in Mallorca and late that night I was asked for an out of competition test. It was about 10pm and the barking dog woke up the sleeping child, but I was glad to be finally tested. I was then told that I had not given a time slot, but I then responded that I don't have access to the ADAMS system. I then contacted the (Austrian Triathlon) federation and asked again to be included. I was then told that since I have a Pro Membership that it would be the responsibility of the WTC. I then told them that I was not interested in finger pointing but requested to finally get access. Another day or two later I finally got the access information, and then in that connection requested a biological passport from WTC/WADA. I knew of course that even a large number of tests, especially if only urine ones, are not really proof that athletic feats were accomplished without doping. Thus I was looking that especially in my case every possible scientific control method was used. In addition to blood tests in competition and out of competition, as far as I know, that would be a biological passport, and if done consequently manipulations can be virtually eliminated.
ST: So how long did it take after all that?
Lisa: A week later I had my first blood test and can now show all kinds of results from blood tests.
ST: Were you tested at the 70.3 races you had won?
Lisa: Yes, both in Mallorca and in St. Pölten there were competition control, and additionally I had - unlike many others - more recently also out of competition tests. None in Haugesund.
ST: One would think that you would be really on the radar of both WTC and NADA.
Lisa: Of course, and as soon as I started my comeback I was determined to be tested often and well and to be accepted into the biological passport program, so that doubts along those lines could be erased. Details along those lines though would have to come from NADA and WTC. These organizations not only have the task to catch dopers but also to protect clean athletes, and for NADA that is part of their legal task "awareness education against doping." It is important that athletes and fans can see what kind of performances are possible without doping, an important example of preventative anti doping measures.
ST: What does it look like now with testing for you?
Lisa: I attached a photo of my most recent test results and that does not even show the last 3 tests. On August 21 I had my most recent blood and urine test. I was then told that I am currently the most heavily controlled endurance athlete in Austria.
ST: Why do you think why a small country like Austria has been in such a limelight in terms of doping?
Lisa: I don't think that Austria has more or less doping than other countries. We have a pretty good working doping control system and the last few years an ant-doping law. The SOKO Doping unit (special police unit that deals with doping) as part of the police investigative system also had methods back then which the anti-doping agencies did not have access to. That is quite rare in other countries and it showed in the last few weeks what happened in West Germany over many years, with the blessing or support of the political system. But I don't know that much about it and everything else is speculation.
ST: On that note, let us talk also about the Miami affair. The accusations were quite large and with it immediately came the connection to your past.
Lisa: Publicly this is the only side people know of me and thus accusations come easily. The problem is that I again and again get connected to my criminal activities in the past. Hopefully I can now show a different side of mine.
ST: Independent of your past, can you understand that folks may have seen you and Andy Fuchs in action in Miami without knowing who you were and still noticed something that they did not like? The topic itself though is not specifically about you - it has come up with other couples too.
Lisa: After Miami I did not take the case very serious because I did not do anything illegal, and thus did not react on it. In hindsight that wasn't ideal, but by now I am past it, because the case was cleared officially.
ST: I have to admit that when I looked at the time splits there I was suspicious too. The time check splits of you and Andy Fuchs were relatively tight together.
Lisa: When looking at splits quite a few interpretations can be made. It is a fact that I easily made up my disadvantage from the swim to the lead group before the turnaround and I was slower in the second half. And that is when I was apparently receiving help? I think I have shown this year a few times that on flat and slightly rolling courses I am one of the stronger cyclists. But I am aware that because of my past that I am being watched and some folks seem to want to see another mistake from me and sometimes something is added when the truth isn't enough. I am smart enough to know that folks are just waiting to find something to accuse me of. Thus I am trying to be extra correct in that regard. And split times and time checks alone mean nothing really, and that was shown in 70.3 St Poelten. Andy came to the finish 2 seconds ahead of me and I never saw him in the race, because the start times there were different too.
ST: You then took legal steps with an attorney. Where are we now with this?
Lisa: If I had not taken legal steps against these accusations, they would have been seen as admitting to the situation. I knew ahead of time that folks are looking closer at me and am thus making sure that I am not making a mistake. Unfortunately it took a half a year until I could finally show again that I do not need the assistance of others to get good results. The race organization and another participant (Ed Donner If I remember correctly) confirmed that there was no rule infraction. I also got the prize money and money is surely the last thing that flows if there are questions still up in the air.
ST: The race officials can't do anything if they don't witness it and they confirmed that point here. Plus even if another participant (Ed Donner here) did not witness you drafting, that still does not mean you did not do it, and if someone claimed 6 years ago that they never saw you doping, that also does not mean it did not happen. Can you see this?
Lisa: Don't be mad, but that is a strange logic and a reversal of burden of proof. With that logic everyone could be accused to be thief or a murderer, because you could say we just haven't caught you. If I did something wrong and there is proof, then I will stand up for it and deal with the consequences. But please no baseless accusations and prejudices - that should normal in a constitutional democracy.
ST: Let me ask directly then, was there drafting between you and Andy Fuchs?
ST: Is there anything else you want to say?
Lisa: I know that I have made big mistakes and that I hurt my sport and that I was made responsible for it. I lost everything and my money went mostly to attorneys, plus I was dealt enormous psychological pressure. Of course I have to accept responsibility for my actions, and it is now a bit pointless to make my environment from back then responsible.
I love my sport and need this challenge. I want to suffer and want to see how far I can go on an honest path. I ask everyone to allow me to have this opportunity. We don't have to turn into friends, but I hope there will be fairness and fair play in that regard. I have been criticized often and hard and that is ok, but blind hatred, which isn't based on facts but assumptions, is not something I have earned.
Please give me this chance. I hope my regret is obvious and my apology will be accepted.