In elite figure skating, makeup can be as important a tool as a boot and a blade.
He can also rule out an Olympic competitor.
Jessica Calalang, an American pairs skater and potential team member for next February’s Winter Games in Beijing, recently had a suspension from the sport canceled. Calalang had tested positive for a banned substance in January at the national championships, and it took eight months for her name to be cleared.
These eight months were fraught with uncertainty, marked by extensive research into what could have caused her to test positive for 4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid (4-CPA), a known metabolite of meclofenoxate, a stimulant banned by the USADA. .
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“We were sort of retracing our steps and trying to figure out what it could be,” Calalang says. “We’ve been elite athletes for quite some time and are very aware of what we put in our bodies. We knew we hadn’t done anything on purpose to endanger this.”
She received an email on February 12 regarding the violation, and entries for the world championships were due to take place on March 1.
“I only had about two weeks to figure out where it was coming from, and during those two weeks I was struggling, trying to rack my brains where it could come from,” she recalls. “We were in a bubble for the nationals, which ultimately helped reduce it. We had sent in a few products to be tested. We were rushing through everything.”
Still, Calalang, 26, and his partner Brian Johnson, 25, had to withdraw from the world championships, where they could have further established their credentials on the international skating scene.
“Initially we thought it would go away pretty quickly,” said Jenni Meno, who, along with her husband Todd Sand, has been a three-time National Pairs Champion and now coaches Calalang-Johnson with Sand. “We knew it was a strange situation and were convinced Jessica hadn’t taken anything that she shouldn’t be taking.
“We knew it was a big deal, but we didn’t think it would affect the rest of the season. We quickly learned it wasn’t.”
While they could still train but weren’t able to compete in events sanctioned or sponsored by US figure skating, Calalang and Johnson fell into a sort of career void when planning the season. Olympic began. Its funding for US figure skating has been frozen, although the federation has provided support in several areas such as education, physical and mental health resources.
An ombudsman for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee explained to Calalang the machinations of the violations and suspensions, and his options for retaining a lawyer.
“I didn’t know I had to go that far,” Calalang says. “Yes, the emotions we all were going through and the uncertainty were very difficult to deal with between March and now. Everything was so uncertain, things changed daily, a lead and then no, a ray of hope and then no.”
Earlier this summer, UFC fighter Rob Font, who fought in May, had his ban overturned when USADA discovered that chlorphenesin, an unbanned cosmetic preservative found in shampoos and lotions, can also metabolize to 4-CPA. Calalang used similar products.
“I had used the same makeup before,” she said, “and it was just a big shock to me.”
At the end of June, his attorney, Howard Jacobs, informed Calalang of potential changes to the 4-CPA rules that will be voted on in late September. If these regulations were adopted, it would probably not result in any violation for her. And USADA has suggested that she stay in the business until then. In return, USADA offered to lift its interim suspension, allowing Calalang to compete and receive funding immediately.
“It was the best news I could have gotten, something I doubted even then was possible,” she said. “It gave me more hope that I was going to compete again and that my name will be cleared.”
Font’s case was also different from Calalang’s. Font was cleared first because the UFC has its own anti-doping policy of which WADA, the world body for the control of drug use in sport, is not a part. USADA could exonerate him without seeking WADA’s approval. Calalang’s case required WADA’s approval.
While they hoped for a resolution, Calalang and Johnson also battled the clock. The Grand Prix series, the main competitions leading up to the national championships and then to Beijing, would begin with Skate America on October 22. Attending two of these events could be essential for their chance to compete in the Olympics.
It wasn’t until September 30 that Calalang was fully cleared by WADA and USADA – too late to be entered in any Grand Prix event except Skate America, for which the federation gave them a place.
“If Jessica didn’t have the resources and support to retain a lawyer to assist her, this could easily have been another case where an innocent athlete would end up serving a long suspension,” said Jacobs. “While we cannot go back in time and give Jessica the opportunity to participate in the world championships that have been wrongly taken from her, we hope that the anti-doping authorities will quickly remedy this flaw in their testing protocols, and that they will therefore do so in a transparent manner. “
Now they are free for competitions, with funding fully restored. They finished fourth last weekend at an event in Finland.
“I think what they’ve been through as a team over the past few months has made them stronger,” Meno says, “and I think they know they can face anything. successful and continued to train, Brian still there for Jessica, lots of support. What they went through was so important, emotionally, more than going to a skating competition. “
Next week they are heading to Las Vegas for Skate America. Calalang acknowledges that her battle was important not only to herself and Johnson, but to all athletes.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Calalang said. “It was such an unpleasant experience… it would have been easy to put up your hand and say ‘YOU WIN.’
“I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong about it, and I kept fighting and I didn’t give up. I didn’t wave the white flag; we didn’t. There were times when I wanted to, I felt absolutely helpless. But we would keep fighting for it (result). “