What’s in that pill? Olympians need to know

Published On July 19, 2012 | By Alice Cook

Last month, United States women’s soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo tested positive for a substance that is on “the list.” This is not a drug that makes her super fast, super strong or super anything. It’s called Canrenone, which is a premenstrual medication prescribed by her doctor.

Solo had no idea this medication contained a diuretic, which by Olympic standards is illegal. She said she made an honest mistake.

The U.S. Anti Doping Agency accepted her explanation with no sanctions.  Solo was given a warning and is good to go for the gold in London.

It’s no harm, no foul for Solo, but this is not always the case. This story brings to light the massive confusion that has existed ever since Olympic athletes started being tested: how many of the nearly 1,000 banned substances actually help an athlete perform better? Only the doping agencies know for sure.

I can relate to Solo’s situation because something similar happened to me when I was a figure skater and member of the U.S Olympic Team in 1976.

Two days after arriving in Innsbruck, Austria for the Winter Games, I came down with the flu. The sickness kept me out of practices and left me weak in the knees.

On the morning of Opening Ceremonies I was too sick to stand.  My pair partner, Bill Fauver, told me he had something that would help me with my symptoms.  The name of the medication is Lomotil, which is commonly used for intestinal flu relief.

Poor Bill. He meant well. Neither of us realized this would mean trouble – possibly even expulsion from the Games.

There was no way I was missing the Opening Ceremonies. It was a moment I had visualized since I was eight years old. And given that we had little chance of being in the top 10, let alone on the medal stand, the Opening Ceremonies was going to be my “Olympic moment.”

I took the pills, marched in with my teammates, waved to the crowd and took my place in stadium with my fellow figure skaters.

Moments before the torchbearer lit the flame, I fainted.  The next thing I knew I was in an ambulance which took me to the athlete infirmary.

After the U.S. medical team was informed about the medication I took, officials came to my room and delivered the bad news.

I was told that the medication contained a banned substance and if I was tested after the competition, the result would wipe my name along with my partner’s off the Olympic books.

At the time, the top three medalists were tested and one random pair team participating in the event. Fortunately, we were not the random team.

Some 36 years later, I ran into one of my team leaders at a skating event in Boston. We were reminiscing about the chaotic string of events at the Olympic infirmary. It was then that I learned that there were private discussions about pulling ‘Cook and Fauver’ out of the event.

The U.S. delegation did not want to deal with the fall out of a positive drug test. They figured since Bill and I were not medal contenders, it may not be worth the risk.

All those years went by and I never knew. I wonder how my life would have changed if I was not allowed to compete, if I had been stripped of the title “Olympian”.

The notion of everything being ruined because of a common intestinal problem and an innocuous medication just doesn’t make sense.

All the hours of training, getting up at four in the morning, the sacrifices – not just mine but my family’s as well – would have been meaningless. All the celebrating in Colorado Springs the night we made the team would be erased as the happiest day of my life. I spent 12 of my 2o years working on a dream, making it happen and almost seeing it washed down the drain because two little white pills I thought were as safe as aspirin.

The last two years of my skating career I trained from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. with one day off a week. I was doing that while my friends were off at college, going to games, parties and learning things in the classroom I longed to know.

It was all worth it because in the end I made it to my destination. Little did I know at the time,  my moment on the Olympic stage almost didn’t happen because of an innocent mistake.

Alice Cook and the U.S. Olympic figure skating team

As we look forward to these Games, I hope no athlete will be denied because of a six-syllable word on a list of banned  medications that did nothing to help them on the field of play.

We want to keep it clean – and cheaters have no place at the Olympics.  That being said, Hope Solo is no cheater. She is an amazing athlete who has worked her butt off to get where she is.

Olympians are human, and the women competing in these Games have to deal with something their male counterparts have never known. Solo is also a 30-year-old woman who deals with the challenges of a monthly cycle. Over half the population of the world can relate to her symptoms.

As that population of women know, there is no stopping Mother Nature, especially not if you are an Olympian. Hope Solo found that out the hard way.

Comments are closed.

About The Author

is a veteran television sports reporter and Olympian. Her experience includes 25 years of sports reporting for WBZ-TV, the CBS and former NBC affiliate in Boston. Cook has worked for ESPN, Turner Sports, and WTBS. Cook is a feature writer for She's Game Sports and Boston.com. She is also President and Founder of She's Game Sports LLC.