The Loop

Rope-a-dope

Blaming a positive steroid test on a burrito has to be the greatest PED excuse of all time

June 15, 2021

Shelby Houlihan is really good at running long distances. She’s the current American record holder in the 1,500 and 5,000. She finished 11th in the 5,000 at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and would have been poised for a trip to Tokyo this summer as well. Unfortunately for Holihan, however, in January she was banned four years by the Athletics Integrity Unit following a positive test for the anabolic steroid nandrolone. This isn't normally the kind of news that makes a big splash outside the world of long-distance running, but on Monday Houlihan finally chimed in on her Instagram to explain her ban and, as it turns out, it goes back to something we can all understand:

Burritos.

If you’re too busy to read all that, here are the broad strokes: According to Houlihan, the World Anti-Doping Agency has long believed that certain types of pork, specifically those that include organs, can return a false positive for nandrolone, a chemical pigs sometimes produce in high amounts. On December 15th, approximately 10 hours before her drug test, she ate a pork burrito from an authentic Mexican food truck that serves pig offal near her home in Beaverton, Oregon. She believes the fateful carnitas is responsible for robbing her of her dreams.

Suffice to say, if Houlihan was in fact doping, this is the greatest PED lie ever told. Greater than Lance. Greater than A-Rod. What could be more relatable than a burrito? What could be so simultaneously zany yet down to earth that it couldn’t possibly be made up? It’s diabolical genius.

That said, Houlihan has us drinking Kool-Aid Jarritos a bit here. She further explains in a comment beneath her post that she passed a polygraph test and provided a hair sample to one of the world’s foremost toxicologists. She says there are lab protocols in place to account for pork consumption in positive nandrolone tests and that the result could have been declared “atypical,” opening the door to follow-up testing as opposed to the open-and-shut “positive.” She even claims the World Anti-Doping Agency agreed that the test did not indicate a build up of the chemical in the body, as there would be with routine doping.

Now take all of that with a grain of, um, salt. True, pathological cheaters are capable of lies that non-cheaters can’t possibly comprehend. She has massive personal motivations that might outweigh considerations of morality. It's just an Instagram post. So on, so forth. But still, maybe it’s worth considering her side of the story. At the very least it's food for thought.