In a truly shocking and unfortunate turn of events, the FEI announced today that the results of samples collected from Canadian Show Jumping Team athlete, Nicole Walker of Aurora, Ontario, during the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, tested positive for the cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine, a Prohibited Substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code.
Walker, who was part of the fourth-placed Canadian Show Jumping Team and finished fourth overall herself riding Falco van Spieveld, has subsequently been immediately suspended from participating in FEI and Equestrian Canada (EC) sanctioned activities. This also means that Canada has lost its 2020 Olympic team qualification spot at Tokyo and may not be able to send a squad.
The FEI report reads: “A Canadian Jumping athlete who tested positive for a prohibited substance at the Pan-American Games in Lima (PER) in August this year has been provisionally suspended by the FEI. A sample taken from athlete Nicole Walker, who was a member of the fourth-placed Canadian team and also finished fourth with Falco Van Spieveld in the individual final, has tested positive for Benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, which is a prohibited substance under the FEI’s Anti-Doping Rules for Human Athletes (ADRHA). The sample was taken on 7 August, the day of the team final in Lima.
The athlete has the option to request a preliminary hearing before the FEI Tribunal to apply for the lifting of the Provisional Suspension.
Disqualification of the athlete is a separate proceeding that is part of the results management process dealt with by Panam Sports, the organiser of the Pan-American Games. The athlete has exercised her right to request a hearing before the Panam Sports Disciplinary Commission.
Once the Disciplinary Commission has made a decision on the disqualification of the athlete, and team Canada’s final placing, the FEI will be in a position to make any necessary reallocation of the Olympic quota place.”
Benzoylecgonine is the compound tested for in most substantive cocaine urinalyses, formed in the liver by the metabolism of cocaine and excreted in the urine. It is theorized by some that the substance may have gotten into the 26-year-old’s system via indirect exposure to coca tea, also called mate de coca, an herbal infusion made using the raw or dried leaves of the coca plant. Commonly consumed (and legal) in Peru, tourists are often encouraged to drink it if visiting higher altitudes such as Macchu Pichu, as it is a mild stimulant an can boost energy and alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. The leaves of the coca plant contain alkaloids which are the source for cocaine; a typical cup of coca tea contains just over 4 mg of organic coca alkaloid – enough to trigger a positive result on a drug test.
In a Facebook post, Walker remarked, “I was shocked and devastated to hear about these results. I do not use illicit drugs, ever. Whether in Peru, or in any competition setting for that matter, I am always fully aware of the possibility of being tested and would never expose myself to any substance that could test positive. My Canadian teammates, my team in the barn, our horses and I, have all put a lifetime of effort towards an Olympic goal and I would never do anything to jeopardize that for my teammates or for myself. I’m extremely grateful to everyone for their support and to my teammates for standing with me.”
A report from the Pan Am Sports Organization dated Sept. 25th stated that it instituted a robust anti-doping program for the Lima 2019 Pan American Games, which included the collection of 1,843 urine and 252 blood samples which were analyzed by the WADA-approved Montreal Laboratory. From these samples, 15 Adverse Analytical Findings (AAFs) were been reported and were subjected to the procedures and protocols as prescribed in the Anti-Doping Regulations (ADRs) of Panam Sports.The process for seven cases resulted in the athletes being disqualified from the Games as well as their medals and performances forfeited and removed. Hearings for five other cases were scheduled for October 3-4, 2019, while the results of three cases (including Walker’s) had to be determined following analyses of B samples as requested by the athletes. Athletes have the right to appeal their disqualification to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – it is not immediately apparent if Walker intends to do so.
In a statement released on November 12th, Equestrian Canada remarked, “EC is firmly committed to clean sport. We also believe in standing behind our athletes, and fully support Nicole during this challenging situation. EC will be working closely with Nicole and her legal team as appropriate next steps are determined.
“In order to maintain the integrity of the ongoing legal process, EC will not comment further on this case.”
A Glimmer of Hope for the Canadian Show Jumpers
Should Canada lose their jumping team spot to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, there are still a few chances to send an individual(s) – and even a remote chance to send a squad – depending on how things shake out by the end of this year, and as late as mid-March of next year.
Pan Am Games Qualification
The four top-ranked riders from Olympic Group D (which includes Canada) and/or E from countries not already qualified based on their finish in the Individual Final at the Pan Am Games in Lima (one per country) will qualify an individual for their country. Originally this group of nations looked like this:
However, now that Canada is back in the mix, Erynn Ballard’s 13th-place finish would move her ahead of Chile’s Ignacio Montesinos, who was 14th, earning an individual Olympic spot for Canada which will be offered to whomever is at the top of the FEI Olympic Ranking List (ORL) as of Dec. 31, 2019.
Note that with Canada out of the team results at the Pan Ams, the team to move up into that qualifying spot is Argentina, followed by Colombia if they cannot field a team, and so on down the line.
FEI Olympic Ranking List (ORL)
Only countries that have not already qualified for a team berth are eligible to obtain individual spots. One athlete from the country of the best-ranked rider on the overall ORL, excluding countries already qualified, will be invited. Of that group, as of November 4th Mario Deslauriers is currently our top contender in 2nd place:
10. NASSAR, Nayel / Lucifer V (EGY) 1142
26. DESLAURIERS, Mario / Amsterdam 27 (CAN) 894
29. ALVAREZ AZNAR, Eduardo / Rokfeller De Pleville Bois Margot (ESP) 892
29. NERETNIEKS, Kristaps / Moon Ray (LAT) 892
32. GAUDIANO, Emanuele / Chalou (ITA) 882
38. DESLAURIERS, Mario / Bardolina 2 (CAN) 857
42. LAMAZE, Eric / Chacco Kid (CAN) 854
59. BICOCCHI, Emilio / Evita SG Z (ITA) 788
67. MARTINENGO MARQUET, Giulia / Elzas (ITA) 770
72. ALVAREZ AZNAR, Eduardo / Seringat (ESP) 755
74. UNDERHILL, Beth / Count Me In (CAN) 742
80. DINIZ, Luciana / Vertigo Du Desert (POR) 722
82. PAINI, Paolo / Ottava Meraviglia Di Ca’ San G (ITA) 719
106. MARZIANI, Luca / Tokyo Du Soleil (ITA) 655
114. FOSTER, Tiffany / Brighton (CAN) 630
Unused Quota Places
If a country cannot meet its NOC Certificate of Capability by Dec. 31st, or informs the FEI by Feb. 3rd, 2020, that it declines its team quota place, the team spot be reallocated as follows:
- if it was earned at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games, the berth will be awarded to the NOC of the next highest-placed team not already qualified. Canada was 10th at Tryon and Ireland, who placed 7th, would have been eligible for the spot, but Canada will now get the nod because the Irish took the sole remaining Olympic qualifying spot available for show jumping by winning the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final in Barcelona, Oct. 3-6.
- if the spot was earned at an FEI Olympic Group qualification event, it will be reallocated to the NOC of the highest-ranked team in the relevant group;
- if the quota place was earned at the 2019 FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final, the quota place will be reallocated to the NOC of the next highest-placed team. Unfortunately Canada did attend the Final this year.
- if the full quota of 20 teams cannot been reached by these methods, the unused athlete places (three per team) will then be distributed to the NOCs based on highest-ranked riders on the overall FEI ORL.
If an individual quota place is not confirmed or is declined by the NOC by March 16, 2020, the spot will be reallocated as follows:
- if earned at the 2019 Pan Am Games, the place will be offered to the NOC of the next highest-placed rider in the Individual Final.
- unused individual quota places can also be distributed to the highest-ranking riders on the FEI ORL.
- if the maximum quota of 75 athletes is not reached, any unused individual quota places will be given to the NOC(s) of the next highest-ranked athlete(s) on the overall FEI ORL which has already earned an individual spot (max. two individuals per NOC).
- if the host country of Japan is unable to field a team or decides to send a single rider instead of a team, the unused places will once again be reallocated to the NOCs of the highest-ranked athletes on the overall FEI ORL.