An open letter to Andrew Messick, CEO of World Triathlon Corporation

Mr. Messick,

First of all, I want to applaud you for overseeing the implementation of WTC’s anti-doping program. As the first major racing series outside of ITU racing to test at any level, your first steps should be applauded. However, I have to say I disagree with you over some of your recent comments on the IM Talk podcast regarding WTC’s anti-doping program and your stance on the events that occurred at Panama 70.3 in regards to the testing of the pro podium.

In the discussion which begins around 46:30 in the podcast, you state “…Part of the whole intention of a drug testing program is to be unpredictable in who you test. We tested, we continue to test, and we believe as a WADA signatory, our testing is going to be a strong and compelling part of our program. I think that having predictability in who you’re going test is wrong, and in fact we work hard to make sure athletes do not know whether they’ll be tested or not tested at an event or out of competition. Surprise is the greatest deterrent, and ultimately a testing program like ours is the deterrent effect is enormously powerful. We don’t want athletes to know who is going to get tested or when the tests are going to occur…”

I absolutely agree with your stance that in regards to out of competition testing surprise is absolutely your strongest weapon. The only way out of competition testing can be truly successful is if the athlete has no idea when the test is going to occur and therefore cannot plan doping cycles around visit times. However, I could not disagree more about testing that occurs at events. Random testing alone could encourage athletes on the fence about doping to take the risk, considering there is a chance they won’t be tested even if they win. Further, automatically testing every podium does not preclude random testing for the lower placings. If anything, automatically testing every podium would act as a strong deterrent for those considering doping, pro racers dope to win, not to PR or brag to their friends about their time. They dope to get on the podium and take home money they don’t think they can earn on training and talent alone. Not testing the podium leaves a potential that you’re rewarding a cheat.

Further, you go on to say “…I think it’s crazy to imply that we would do something as silly as to exempt any one athlete from our anti-doping program. We understand that Lance in particular is a guy who has been tested a lot, there has been a lot of press in the last few weeks, and months, and years, leading all the way back to Floyd Landis’ allegations at what was then my race the Amgen Tour of California, and the notion that we would have a different protocol for one athlete is crazy cause there’s no way we could destroy our own credibility and have a different set of rules for one of our athletes. Everyone is in the same program and follows the same rules, and frankly I’m not going to tell you who we’re going to test at for example Texas 70.3…”

I think with the rampant rumors and abundant circumstantial evidence about Lance’s alleged doping past have made a lot of people wary of his impact on triathlon. I’m certain I would have paid less attention to Rasmus Hennings tweet had someone else been on the podium in Lance’s place. In fact it may not have even been retweeted, and therefore I might never have seen it. But frankly, put any other athlete with the cloud of suspicion that has followed Lance for the past several years (Barry Bonds, Carl Lewis, etc.) in that place, and you likely would have seen a similar response from many people, including your own WTC pros.

To me, Lance was the indicator, not the actual problem. I find it difficult to believe Mr. Armstrong would be so foolish as to use performance enhancing substances at this point in his career. But I hope you can see why pros sounding concerned about the lack of testing on the Panama podium would cause many fans to be concerned as well. Perhaps it’s simply that your own pros don’t know how your anti-doping process works and should be made better informed? For those of us on the outside, it certainly does look like an unusual situation, and I hope you’ll find it worth your time to consider alternatives to your current plan.

Your next statement I found difficult to swallow: “There’s a lot of people who don’t know very much about anti-doping programs, and consequently they believe there should be strict rules about who does get tested and who doesn’t get tested. Look at races like the Tour de France, where they are focusing much more on randomly testing athletes and not necessarily have traceability…”

While the Tour de France does indeed test randomly, they automatically test their stage winners, usually the full podium, and then the random testing of the rest of the field. I think it’s a disservice to the fans of your sport to think that just because we don’t understand your anti-doping program doesn’t mean we don’t understand anti-doping efforts in general. And just because you don’t believe there is value in testing the winners and podiums doesn’t mean other people don’t as well. From merely a PR value, testing the podium tells your fans and other pros “This was a clean race, and the people who won did so fairly”. That alone should be a strong enough reason for you to consider changing your opinion on the matter.

Finally, the last point you made on Lance and the anti-doping program was the one I really took umbrage with: “The last thing I want to say on the anti-doping program, is that some of the people who are talking about who was and wasnt tested on the podium were the same people saying there was no chance whatsoever Lance would make the podium…”

As you’re probably aware, Rasmus Henning was the athlete who pointed out that the podium was not tested. Here is Rasmus Henning’s version of “smack talk” about Lance leading up to Panama. That doesn’t sound like someone to me who is putting Lance down in any way. IFurther, I think most people really into the sport know that Lance has been training hard for quite a while, whether though the swim times he’s been posting on his @juanpelota twitter, or bike and run efforts he’s been posting under the Strava account with the same name. I think to even most of us with concerns about what happened at Panama could see he was likely going to perform well. Your last point comes off as essentially “haters gonna hate” in today’s vernacular, and really it cheapens the rest of your argument that you wouldn’t change rules for a specific athlete when you’re going out of your way to point out how much you feel Lance exceeded expectations.

In closing, I hope you understand that while I believe your company is doing more testing than any other non-ITU race series, I think there are areas where that program can improve and should continue to do so, including education of your pros and the public at large as to the process you have in place. I also think you may have been wise to further think out your approach to anti-doping now that you’ve tied WTC’s rope to Lance Armstrong’s star and the concerns that many people have about what that means for the sport.

Sincerely,

Ben Berry

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