Age group drug testing at Ironman

Kate Mittelstadt is the Director of Anti-Doping at World Triathlon Corporation (Ironman). Before my interview with her I thought it best to offer a bit of background on how there came to be an anti-doping program at WTC, and the route Ms. Mittelstadt took that brought her to her job.

It is typically the case that world governing bodies, called international federations (IFs), are by statute in countries around the world given the sole right to bestow a "world championship" title to a race, if the sport in question is under the Olympic umbrella.

Exceptions to this would be events that were self-declared or, by popular acclimation considered, world championships before such a sport ever came to sit under the Olympic umbrella. In this case, trademark law is explicit, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport has followed, or at least acceded to, this legal theory, at least in the case of Ironman.

Ironman and XTERRA fall into this category of events. They already had world championships either before triathlon's IF (International Triathlon Union) was formed, or before the ITU decided to absorb a format (such as off-road triathlon) into its governance.

Earlier ITU administrations decided, then, to dissociate from races that held "self-declared" championships, including races produced by these two organizations above. In part because of this, and in part because neither Ironman racing nor XTERRA racing is thematically similar to Olympic style triathlon, USADA (America's anti-doping agency) does not solely fund drug testing at either XTERRA or Ironman races, and USA Triathlon has not made any visible effort to push USADA to do so.

It is by no means certain that USADA would yield to any pressure applied by USAT if it did advocate for testing at an Ironman event. In other words, USADA uses its own funds to test at races specific to the Olympics, and it will test at other events if those events pay USADA for the testing.

In this climate, WTC started its own drug testing program, and, USADA, if not a partner in that effort, is at least a vendor.

WTC chose an organization called ANADO to be the administrator of its program. ANADO is an association comprised of several national anti-doping agencies. However, ANADO found the provision of administration services financially unviable and has since closed down that part of its operations.

Kate Mittelstadt spent 8 years at USADA, from its inception to 2008. She left USADA, subsequently working with ANADO. When WTC discovered that ANADO could no longer be its the vendor administering its anti-doping program, it made the move to bring the administration of its program in-house. It went hunting for an administrator for its program, and chose Ms. Mittelstadt to run it.

WTC is a WADA signatory. WTC is, in a way, its own IF, that is, it's recognized by WADA as an IF-equivalent for the purposes of its own events. This, because—as noted above—triathlon's IF dissociated itself with Ironman (in 2004).

It should be noted that the current ITU leadership does not seem to hold any particular animus toward WTC, and there may be a rapprochement in the future, whereby WTC will again become a part of the federation system. In the meantime, ironically, virtually all Ironman races are sanctioned by national federations the world over, and these federations all sit under the ITU.

In the interim WTC handles its own drug testing—sort of. It is its own testing authority, that is, it is the tester of record at most of its races. But it contracts with national anti-doping agencies in each country to carry out its tests (USADA in the United States, ASADA in Australia, and so on).

WTC tests mostly the pros who do its races, but, it may test age-group racers as well, and it may also subject its age-group racers to out-of-competition (OOC) testing. Accordingly—and in an effort to get under the hood of this program—I interviewed Ms. Mittelstadt for this series, and asked her to explain how it all works.

SLOWTWITCH: When drug testing occurs at an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 event, who is the testing authority?

KATE MITTELSTADT: Most often WTC. There are some cases where a national anti-doping organization [NADO] may step in and test and be the testing authority if we are not testing at a specific event.

SLOWTWITCH: Am I right in assuming such NADOs might be those in Australia and Germany, where they consider ITU and WTC races all of a piece?

KATE MITTELSTADT: That's historically accurate, but now we're working with more anti-doping agencies, South Africa for example, to get them to test. At Port Macquarie [Ironman Australia and Ironman 70.3 Port Macquarie, both held this past weekend], ASADA and WTC partnered to fund the testing.

SLOWTWITCH: ANADO was the service provider for WTC. But ANADO is no longer providing this service. Who is WTC's service provider now?

KATE MITTELSTADT: We made the decision to bring the administration in-house. In other words: Me. And we're still using the network of anti-doping organizations as service providers.

SLOWTWITCH: So, in the U.S, will you use USADA as the service provider?

KATE MITTELSTADT: USADA is the current service provide for tests in the U.S.

SLOWTWITCH: Going back a few years, when I interviewed folks at WADA, they seemed to me uninformed or uninterested in the fact that the ITU had dissociated itself with Ironman, and the ITU confirmed to me, through its anti-doping director, that WADA labs would still routinely send faxes of adverse findings to the ITU, which she said she discarded. This, as of 4 or 5 years ago. Is that still going on?

KATE MITTELSTADT: Absolutely not. We are identified specifically as testing authority and results management authority. The labs are reporting directly back to us.

SLOWTWITCH: Still, though, according to WADA code, the IF automatically gets notified of an adverse finding. That's cleared up, the IF is no longer getting notified?

KATE MITTELSTADT: WTC is the recognized international federation equivalent, and therefore gets the reports.

SLOWTWITCH: When might an age-group racer get tested at an Ironman or Ironman 70.3?

KATE MITTELSTADT: Age-group athletes, when they register, via the standard waiver language, open themselves up to the anti-doping process. They are more likely to be tested if they qualify for 70.3 or Ironman World Championships. When they accept their slots, they go through the process where they formally acknowledge their anti-doping responsibilities. It's at that time they are notified they could be subject to OOC testing. There is a formal registered testing pool. Fixed whereabouts obligations. But that's mostly for the pros. There could be some age-groupers in that pool. But anybody is subject to OOC testing, even if they're not in the pool.

SLOWTWITCH: So, somebody from a WADA lab could show up at your door or at your masters swim practice, ask for a sample, and you're obliged to give it, whether you're in the OOC pool or not? Just, if you're not in the pool, you're not obliged by the rules of the OOC pool, registering your whereabouts and so forth.

KATE MITTELSTADT: Yes, but, it's not just somebody from a lab, but somebody under the jurisdiction of WTC.

SLOWTWITCH: This person is contracted by WTC, and he takes the sample to the WADA lab?

KATE MITTELSTADT: It's a USADA doping control officer. Our contract is with USADA [in the U.S.].

SLOWTWITCH: Can you issue TUEs [therapeutic use exemptions]?


SLOWTWITCH: If somebody needs a TUE, is it your sense they'd be better off going to USADA, or WTC, or do you care?

KATE MITTELSTADT: We recognize TUEs from any code signatory, any anti-doping organization. Most folks apply to their anti-doping organization, that's the primary resource. Once approved, they give notice to us.

SLOWTWITCH: But an athlete could apply directly to WTC for a TUE?

KATE MITTELSTADT: Yes, an athlete could apply for a TUE through WTC.

SLOWTWITCH: For the thorniest medical issues, that require a TUE be explicitly approved prior to engaging in competition, athletes can also apply to WTC?


SLOWTWITCH: Because WTC is a WADA signatory, and it's the recognized IF for Ironman racing, if such a TUE is granted by WTC, is USADA obliged to honor that TUE in such case as that athlete is found to have an adverse finding at a non-WTC race, say, at USAT Nationals?

KATE MITTELSTADT: Does USADA recognize TUEs issued by other entities? I would need to look at their rules to verify that. Most anti-doping orgs recognize TUEs issued by other anti-doping orgs. But there are safeguards in the policies that allow anti-doing organizations to review a TUE rather than blindly accept something that they may not feel has been granted consistent with the International Standard.