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January 13, 2022

Blessing Okagbare Investigation Leads to First Person Charged Under U.S. Anti-Doping Law

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in New York announced charges against Eric Lira for providing two athletes with performance enhancing drugs. The details in the criminal complaint match up with the Athletics Integrity Unit’s suspension of Nigerian sprints star Blessing Okagbare’s positive test for human growth hormone during the Tokyo Olympics.

Background Details 📚

– Those who have seen the Academy-Award-winning documentary Icarus remember the Rodchenkov name quite well. The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, which was passed into law under President Trump in December 2020, criminalized enabling doping at international sports competitions like world championships or Olympics. It was named after Grigory Rodchenkov, who was one of the key whistleblowers in uncovering systemic doping at the Moscow anti-doping lab during the 2014 Winter Olympics. After the law was passed, the International Olympic Committee was disappointed that U.S. professional leagues like the NFL, Major League Baseball or the NCAA were exempt from the legislation. 

– The maximum term of imprisonment under the Rodchenkov Act is 10 years and the maximum term of imprisonment for conspiring to violate the misbranding laws is 5 years.

– On July 30, Blessing Okagbare was provisionally suspended for doping just hours before she was slated to run in the women’s 100 meter dash semifinal. The AIU announced she tested positive for HGH  in an out-of-competition test that was taken on July 19 – just four days before the start of the Games. Okagbare is the 2008 Olympic silver medalist and the 2013 world championship silver medalist in the long jump. She earned a bronze medal in the 200 meters at the 2013 world championships. She boasts personal bests of 10.79 and 22.04 for 100 meters and 200 meters, respectively.

What We Know 💉

– Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll announced the criminal charge against Lira a therapist working in the El Paso, Texas area, who distributed performance enhancing drugs to athletes ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. The investigation found that Lira is not a licensed physician or physical therapist in Texas, New York or Florida.

“We allege Mr. Lira knew he was breaking the rules when he communicated with Olympians through an encrypted messaging app to hide his illegal activity,” Driscoll said. “It’s not winning if you take illegal substances – it’s cheating, and Mr. Lira will now be forced to face the consequences of his alleged criminal actions.”

– According to the report, Lira claimed to be a “kinesiologist and naturopathic” doctor who would get “misbranded” HGH and EPO from Central and South America before distributing them to athletes.

Two athletes are referred to within the criminal complaint as “Athlete-1” and “Athlete-2.” Lira and Athlete-1 texted via an encrypted app about the sale and use of the drugs and whether it would be safe to take a drug test. On June 22, 2021, Athlete-1 texted Lira, “Hola amigo / Eric my body feel so good / I just ran 10.63 in the 100m on Friday / with a 2.7 wind / I am sooooo happy / Ericccccccc / Whatever you did, is working so well.” Lira responded with, “What you did . . . is going to help you for the upcoming events. You are doing your part and you will be ready to dominate”

– On June 17, Okagbare ran 10.63 (+2.7 m/s wind) for 100m in Lagos before running her season best of 10.89 (+0.6 m/s wind) on July 6 in Székesfehérvár, Hungary before the Olympics.

 

– The criminal complaint says Athlete-1 was provisionally suspended from the Olympics on July 30th ahead of the women’s 100m semifinal, which aligns with Okagbare’s case.

What We Still Do Not Know 🤷

– Who is Athlete-2? According to the complaint, the athlete was in the Jacksonville, Fla area in July. Athlete-2 was also dealing with a hamstring injury in June. The report does not make it clear whether Athlete-2 competed at the Tokyo Olympics.

Reactions 💬

– Blessing Okagbare’s only tweet since the news of the positive test came on Sept. 3, 2021, when she posted a photo of a quote and wrote, “When it’s time to say anything, I will and it will be worth the wait.”

– Lira is in jail in El Paso and has yet to comment on the charges.

– USADA CEO Travis Tygart issued the following statement in support of the FBI and Department of Justice’s investigation: “When RADA was passed by the U.S. Congress and enacted into law just last year, we knew it could be a game-changer for the good of clean sport. Now with this first case arising under it, which has protected the integrity of this past summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games, we are thrilled with its implementation and the power that it brings in holding athlete support personnel or other conspirators accountable, like the defendant here.” “Equally important, we appreciate the close working relationship with the Athletics Integrity Unit in this matter. This is a huge win for all clean athletes and those who value fair sport.”

Photo by Kevin Morris/@kevmofoto


Here Is What Else Is Happening In Track and Field 📰

💙  The 2022 Boston Marathon elite women’s field was released and it’s got no shortage of star power. There are seven women who have broken 2:20 including Peres Jepchirchir (2:17:16) & Joyciline Jepkosgei (2:17:43), which means we’re going to see a clash between the fastest marathoners of 2020 and 2021. The top American women include Sara Hall, Des Linden, Molly Seidel, Sara Vaughn, Kellyn Taylor, Nell Rojas, Stephanie Bruce, Dakotah Lindwurm and Roberta Groner. You can check out the full fields here

🏃‍♂️ The Millrose Games men’s Wanamaker Mile field for Jan. 29 was unveiled by meet organizers. The field is headlined by Olympic 1,500m finalists Josh Kerr and Olli Hoare but you cannot overlook the American contingent of Clayton Murphy, Craig Engels and Hobbs Kessler. Nick Willis, who just barely missed breaking four minutes for the mile during Tracksmith’s Midnight Mile on Jan. 1, will get his next shot in this race.

‍👩‍👦‍👦 Reigning Millrose Games champion Chris O’Hare announced his retirement at 31 years old. The Scottish star finishes his career with personal bests of 3:32.11 for 1,500m and 3:52.91 for the mile. He is also a 3x European championship medalist and the 2012 NCAA indoor mile champion.

🐗 In yesterday’s edition of The Lap Count, Parker Stinson announced he is joining Roots Running in Boulder. He spoke briefly with Kyle Merber about how he made the decision.

👟 2021 NCAA 1,500 meter champion Anna Camp-Bennett of BYU has signed a professional contract with Adidas. She run 4:08.53 for 1,500m and ran 8:52.53 for the 3,000m. 

🤔 Change is coming for Ben Flanagan as his time with the Reebok Boston Track Club is up. He thanked them on Instagram for the past three years.

👨 No change for Craig Engels, who floated the idea of retirement or changing his training setup after finishing fourth in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials. He announced he is staying put with Nike and working with coach Pete Julian and Union Athletics Club.


What to Watch For This Weekend 📺:

We should see some fast times in Houston this weekend. Keira D’Amato could give the women’s marathon American record a scare based on some of her recent training. Her current personal best is 2:22:56. On the men’s side, Frank Lara is making his marathon debut on home soil. The half marathons are also traditionally quick. The men’s field has three East Africans who have run under 60 minutes. The women’s half includes Sara Hall, Emily Durgin, Nell Rojas, Sarah Pagano and Dom Scott as some of the notable stars. Full fields here.

How to Watch:

Event: Houston Marathon and Half Marathon

Time: 8 a.m. ET

TV: ABC 13

Live Stream: The Houston Marathon and Half Marathon will be broadcast on ESPN3 and The Longhorn Network on Sunday morning from 8 a.m. ET.


That’s it from me today. As always, thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this, learned something new or have any questions or commentary on anything featured in this issue, feel free to hit my inbox by replying or writing to [email protected]

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