Of the sport’s antidoping authorities, she added: “They say that they are protecting athletes that are clean, but I don’t feel protected at all. I just feel like I’m being judged for this very big decision I made that really affected my life.”
World Athletics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
McNeal’s case highlights the question of how much antidoping authorities do — or should go — to catch athletes who use banned drugs, while still protecting the rights of athletes who are clean.
The antidoping rule book is getting thicker and more nuanced, making it more complicated for clean athletes to follow every rule. Drug-testing technology has grown more sensitive, meaning that small traces of banned drugs — perhaps ingested by consuming tainted food — show up in results. Yet athletes and their handlers continue to offer outlandish excuses for missing or failing drug tests, making it tough for antidoping authorities to ease up on any part of their quest to keep sport clean.
The Russian high jumper Danil Lysenko’s excuse for missing tests, for example, was that he was undergoing medical tests at a hospital when the drug tester was looking for him. In the end, the doctors’ names on the paperwork submitted in his defense turned out to be fake and the hospital itself did not exist. Other cases, though, are complicated and antidoping officials must decide how strict they will be in the application of the rules, if the point is to catch athletes who intentionally cheat.
“No one wants a paperwork violation or other mistake to prevent a clean athlete from achieving their dreams,” said Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, adding that he is not involved in the McNeal case and hasn’t seen detailed documentation of it.
In recent years, some antidoping authorities have shown they will search for even a crumb of wrongdoing, even if the violation doesn’t prove the athlete was doping. The fairness of it is debatable, especially when an athlete has made what is clearly a mistake.
On Jan. 12, 2020, a drug tester knocked on McNeal’s door but got no answer. Nor did anyone answer her phone. Eighteen days later, the Athletics Integrity Unit, which investigates doping in track and field, asked McNeal to explain. She was not required to answer. She had missed only one test in a 12-month period, and it takes three to trigger a doping violation.