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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Armstrong suspended on doping violation: a Canadian explanation

EXCLUSIVE: Armstrong suspended for doping violation: a Canadian explanation

The news was fully explained to me this morning and frankly, I was in shock. Not so much by what has happened but of how.

2010 Paralympic champion skip Jim Armstrong was not, as we all know, leading Team Canada at this year’s 2012 World Wheelchair Curling Championship in South Korea.

The question has always been – why?

We know that the Calgary Herald released the story prior to us, prior to the offical WCF annoucement with documents (found here)  and prior to the  CCA response announcements. However in an exclusive interview with Wheelchair Curling Blog 2, Armstrong has explained his story in greater detail.

In fact, Armstrong approached us, as he felt the need for a non-biased forum. A story which ultimately will affect both the Canadian program and, of course, himself personally.

The remains of a tragic story are the root of Jim’s current dilemma. In December of last year, as required by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and the WCF (World Curling Federation), all national team athletes are required to submit to drug testing, including random testing. As a high-profile competitor, Jim was often called upon to submit to the doping police. On an average day in December, Jim submitted his samples to CCES (Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport) for testing, and thought nothing of the routine submission.

In January, a call came to Jim, informing him of the news: a violation.

I can just imagine the look on Jim’s face when he was told he had failed the test, but more shocking when he heard the name of the substance that had raised the red flag. No, it was not cocaine, which able-bodied curler Joe Frans was caught with a few years ago. Nor was it steroids – Lord knows, Armstrong does not need steroids.

The drug Tamoxifen is, an antagonist of the estrogen receptor in breast tissue via its active metabolite. In other tissues, such as the endometrium, it behaves as an agonist, and thus may be characterized as a mixed agonist/antagonist. Tamoxifen is the usual endocrine (anti-estrogen) therapy for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in pre-menopausal women, and is also a standard in post-menopausal women… although aromatase inhibitors are also frequently used in that setting.

And now, let us all say what we’re all thinking – what the heck?

This was my reaction, of course, and then it hit me: Jim’s tragic loss of his long-time love Carleen, his wife of 29 years, who died in September of 2009. She had battled cancer since 2006.

See the fit?

According to Jim, his medications come in 3 month batches with some bottles large which make it near impossible for travel. He inadvertently used a smaller old medication bottle which had been contaminated with one of Carleen’s cancer medications.

Has Armstrong claimed foul? No.

Has he tried to skirt the results? No.

In Jim’s words, a mistake occurred, and it seems a rather obvious mistake – the man, after all, ingested a female-based cancer treatment drug. But this error is now costing Armstrong part of the foundation of a new life he has been trying to rebuild. Moreover, this mistake has cost a curling-crazed country.

Jim states: " I know I really hurt the Team and the Program, and will be making an appeal as soon as practicable."

So what does this all mean?
In both the long and short term there are obvious consequences.

Right now it means immediate suspension and 18 months is the fact of what Jim – and the Canadian wheelchair curling program – now faces.

The World Curling Federation (WCF) has handed down and enforced the 18-month decision which means that Armstrong, in no way, shape or form, may curl or coach curling until July of 2013.
Naturally, Armstrong is appealing the decision to which the details are still unfolding. 

What are the best- and worse-case outcomes?

The best is easy: the CAS (The Court of Arbitration for Sport) hears Jim’s explanation and understands it, and decides to remove or reduces the suspension.

The worst is that the appeal is denied in full, everything stays in place and all of a sudden Canada is has to figure out how to rebuild a national team, with the next worlds less than a year away.
What will probably happen, based on my experience with WADA, CCES and the CAS, is a reduction of the suspension to somewhere between six and 12 months based on a precedent set ruling for Glen Ikonen of Sweden, when he had a violation for blood pressure medication that occurred at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games.

What does this means for Jim Armstrong?

Well, it gives him some down time; specifically, time to experience a life without curling (again). Will he lose his on-ice touch, or even his knowledge? Absolutely not, and when (or if) he wants to come back, he should perform better than ever.

Now, as for the program??
I’m sure that Armstrong will have something to say about direction and future. I, for one, cannot see the new/interim skip not working with Armstrong in some type of advisory capacity. It make sense to have the replacement skip start working with Armstrong as soon as possible and then, in 2014, have him or her play third for Armstrong in Sochi.

Post- 2014, Armstrong is still going to be  the most experienced and knowledgeable wheelchair curler who can lead the pack on the ice, or step into a coaching role, and/or be a talent scout, and so on.

The next question, of course, is where to find the replacement skip?

Does the CCA vault a current national program member into that position?

Do they grab an up and comer?

Do they look to the past, and grab a former national team member?

The CCA has some interesting choices to consider and decisions to make, and Wheelchair Curling Blog 2 will follow the details as the story develops... and it will develop.


Anonymous said...

First Glenn, now Jim......

The system seems way too HEAVY HANDED....good luck with the appeal....this really sucks

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the WCF have anything better to do?

Tamoxifen? Come on....it had to be a complete mistake, no benefit, and an eighteen month suspension?

Let me guess...filing an Appeal will take eighteen months.

Anonymous said...

This is ridiculous.

Eighteen months????? FOR WHAT????

Is the WCF simply tired of Canada winning?

They certainly have fixed that.

I would be afraid to put my name to this...they may show up at my door

Anonymous said...





Anonymous said...

You hear of these type of circumstances in other sports, but wheelchair curling?

This exceeds any definition of common sense.

Anonymous said...

It does seem odd that all of the testing is controlled by the WCF, and Canada gets whacked so hard. Even Glenn, as I recall only got 6 months for a minor violation.

Well, the WCF has found a way to break Canada's stranglehold on Gold.....Will Howard be next before the World's?

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, WCF,

You have reached a new level of low. How on earth does this even make sense?

Anonymous said...

Like Armstrong, or hate him.....NO ONE deserves this type of treatment. Eighteen months actually means TWO World Championships...they may as well have saved time and just given him the maximum of two years, and really patted themselves on the back.

Anonymous said...

So, to be clear:

If you have a first offense of cocaine, you get twenty-four months, but if you accidentally take something of no value, benefit or social risk, you get 6 months less?

And this is minimized?

Very interesting system.

Anonymous said...

I guess WC Curling is bigger than I thought, to get this type of judicial heat.

How long, and at what cost does an appeal take?

I DO hope Armstrong does appeal, since this simply seems ridiculous.

Anonymous said...


Here is your opportunity.....

Even Joe can't ignore the gap to be filled.

Anonymous said...






Anonymous said...

This is yet another example of beaurocracy baffling brains.

How can the WCF substantiate the costs to date, and if there is an appeal, which I hope there will be, how much more will the WCF have to throw at a non-issue.

Anonymous said...

One cannot fathom how this can occur.

One would think common sense would have prevailed.

Does anyone know how to access old decisions?

Anonymous said...

This has to be an early April Fool joke.

Or at least it is a joke. Shame on the WCF and their Henchmen.

Set the whole issue aside.

Anonymous said...

Inconsequential, inadvertent, accidental...??????

Eighteen months?

FOR WHAT??????



Anonymous said...

And I thought poor Glenn Ikonen's hit was a "one of", never to happen again.

If this was not so tragic, it would be laughable.

Anonymous said...

Wow..first I'm surprised that Jim would travel internationally with his meds not in the original container (arrangements could have been made to have a smaller container). And with his knowledge of medications, did he not know the risks of cross contamination? Rules are rules. But that being said, this does sound like a ridiculous situation especially if Tamoxifen is not on the list of banned substances. In that circumstance he should definitely appeal.

Anonymous said...

Anti-Estrogens are substances that block the effects of estrogen in the body (usually to prevent tumors) and are used by athletes to counter the side effects of steroids. Anti-estrogens are clinically used in the treatment of breast cancer and to reduce the breast cancer incidence in high-risk women. Examples of anti-estrogens are: anastrozole, clomiphene, tamoxifen, and formestane.

Anonymous said...

There is no basis or rationale for taking tamoxefin. Its only abusing use is for steroid users in off-cycle (not a 61 year old). The only other use is as a potent anti-cancer medication, which obviously is how it was inadvertently ingested.

The side effects are poison to all, including cancer patients.

So, no reason to take it, other than accidentally.

The sense I get from the Decision is that it was an ongoing mistake, and I doubt that very much.

I will bet that is one of the grounds for appeal.

At any rate, 18 months for an accident is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

This just shows you how far off base the anti-doping decision makers are.

I understand the need for objectivity, but how does a decision like this make any sense?

I say no harm, no foul. PERIOD

Anonymous said...

I hate to think that politics has occurred.

Maybe it is not in the best interest in WCF's opinion to have one country dominate the sport?

Seems they have succeeded gold medal to 3 - 6 at worlds....

I HOPE there is no political undertone.

Anonymous said...

So do I have it right?

you get caught for full blown steroid abuse (first offense) and it is a 2 year ban.

You inadvertently take tomoxifen, with no benefit...a year and a half...

doesn't make much sense to me.

Anonymous said...

How can the WCF even sleep?

And according to CCA interview, Armstrong is immediately suspended from the Program, and will get no help with an appeal, EVEN THOUGH the CCA is an obvious benefactor of any appeal.

If I were Jim, I would tell CCA to stuff it.

Anonymous said...

I hope this gets appealed, for the sake of little guys in other sports.
This would be a bad precedent to be left unopposed for all sport.

I find it hard to believe that Jim has to go it alone, though, since a lot of success is linked to him, and this is hardly a Joe Frans infraction.

I wonder how long an appeal takes?startais fferoup

Anonymous said...

I cannot understand how the system can work......a guy gets 24 months for blatantly ignoring rules and does steroids, does try to hide it, whatever....

A guy inadvertently contaminates his own medication, does not question it, is cooperative, and gets 18 months.....