In 2019 Barbara Gicquel competed in the USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships, hoping to set a time record for her age group. At 79-years-old, she broke the record in the 500-meter time trial. But according to a report by the Washington Post, Giquel’s crowning achievement was called into question by the U.S Anti-Doping Agency, after she tested positive for a banned substance and was accused of doping. The USADA stripped Gicquel of her record.
Gicquel fought to appeal the decision, arguing that the banned substance was a doctor-prescribed medication, used to offset the impact of menopause on Gicquel’s lungs. The USADA’s decision was upheld on August 11 after Gicquel applied to have it overturned. Gicquel has been ineligible to compete in any cycling competitions since last year. Once again, the USADA’s outdated views on doping and what it means to be an athlete is being called into question.
The banned substance found in Gicquel’s urine was methyltestosterone, according to the Post, which Gicquel says was an ingredient in a medication she took called Estratest. The drug was prescribed to Gicquel in 2005, the Post reports, to combat bronchitis and lung issues related to menopause. Gicquel and her doctor agreed that this medication was vital to keeping her alive. But when the methyltestosterone showed up on her urine test, Gicquel understood that she had made a mistake. She tried to “obtain a retroactive therapeutic use exemption” which would have undone any wrongdoing, but her request was denied by the USADA, who stated Gicquel, “did not establish a medical condition that required the use of methyltestosterone.”
Gicquel first learned in 2015 that her medication contained small amounts of a banned substance and did not report this to the USADA arguing that the USADA banned substances list “was written with young elite female athletes in mind” and not older competitors who would require medications that could contain a mix of testosterone, estrogen, and other hormones. Because she admitted to being aware of the presence of the substance in 2015, the governing body of her sport has erased all of her wins and records that occurred after August 2015. A similar case occurred in 2019 when a 90-year-old cyclist was stripped of his record after his urine test showed a banned substance he had accidentally consumed by eating bad meat. American boxer Virginia Fuchs was also sanctioned last year by the USADA for a substance that got into her system after unprotected sex.
Athletes have repeatedly complained about the USADA’s inability to keep up with changes in medicine and the needs of a broader group of competitive athletes–and the case of Barbara Gicquel is another one to add on to the pile. Gicquel argues that had she stopped taking the medication that contained the banned substance she would have been putting her lung health at risk. Gicquel also argues that the USADA bylaws are ageist and present a barrier to women of a certain age who wish to continue competitive sports, telling the Post, “Allowing reasonable prescriptions like mine, to combat [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] or whatever other ailments older folk inevitably come by, would seem to me a good and healthy change in USADA.”