Shelby Houlihan

Shelby Houlihan holding up medal

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What was the Accusation?

Runner Shelby Houlihan insists it was a tainted pork burrito that got her barred from all events through 2025. The Court of Arbitration for Sport begged to differ, saying its judges “unanimously determined” she had failed to prove how the drug nandrolone wound up in her drug-testing sample. The finding of the testosterone hormone, among the most popular steroids in the world, meant that Houlihan must all but give up on her childhood dream of one day winning a gold medal.

Houlihan, the American record-holder in two events who had finished 11th in the 5,000 meters at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, had hoped to perform well enough at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in June to qualify for the Tokyo Games. Now she must miss that event, in addition to the 2024 Paris Olympics and next year’s track worlds in Eugene, Oregon, the first such event to be held in the United States.

Her case had remained confidential for six months after Houlihan was told by email on Jan. 14 by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) that she’d failed the test. She broke the silence in an Instagram posting by giving her fans an account of what she says happened. Houlihan said it has “long been understood by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) that eating pork can lead to a false positive for nandrolone, since certain types of pigs produce it naturally in high amounts.” Houlihan said that 10 hours before her Dec. 15 drug test, she bought the burrito in question “from an authentic Mexican food truck that serves pig offal near my house in Beaverton, Oregon. I notified the AIU that I believed this was the source.”

Could it be that Houlihan was right all along? As Nancy Armour of USA Today said: “Machines are now so sensitive they can detect the minutest amounts of a performance-enhancing drug, exposing as cheats people we were once certain were clean. But those same machines can’t necessarily determine the source of the PEDs, making some of those stories that sound too wild to be believed, like a tainted burrito, perhaps actually true.”

Key Apologia Strategies:

Denial, Bolstering, Attacking the Accuser

Video (statement begins at 8:02)


Shelby Houlihan’s Instagram Post:

Since I started running when I was 5 years old, I’ve had dreams of running professionally, setting records, winning an Olympic gold medal and being one of the best in the world. I have always blindly believed that I was good enough to achieve those things.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve put in more time, more miles, have become more dedicated, and have learned to genuinely love this sport. It’s what brings me the most joy. It’s where I feel the most me. I have always done it the right way. I’ve put my head down and just worked at being better year after year. I’ve stayed patient and trusted that the work and consistency would show.

I still have all of the same dreams I had when I was 5 and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been able to have achieved some of them. I still have others that I’m working towards. But the thing that truly drives me is the love and joy I get from what I do and the curiosity to find out what my potential is.

On January 14th, 2021, I received an email from the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), informing me a drug testing sample that I provided on December 15th, 2020 has returned as an Adverse Analytical Finding for an anabolic steroid called Nandrolone and that I am therefore subject to an immediate Provisional Suspension. When I got that email, I had to read it over about ten times and google what it was that I had just tested positive for. I had never even heard of nandrolone.
I have since learned that it has long been understood by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) that eating pork can lead to a false positive for nandrolone, since certain types of pigs produce it naturally in high amounts. Pig organ meat (offal) has the highest levels of nandrolone.

In the following 5 days after being notified, I put together a food log of everything that I consumed the week of that December 15th test. We concluded that the most likely explanation was a burrito purchased and consumed approximately 10 hours before that drug test from an authentic Mexican food truck that serves pig offal near my house in Beaverton, Oregon. I notified the AIU that I believed this was the source.

Although my levels were consistent with those of subjects in studies who were tested 10 hours after eating this source and WADA technical guidelines require the lab to consider it when analyzing nandrolone, the lab never accounted for this possibility. They could have reported this as an atypical finding and followed up with further testing. The anti-doping experts I have reached out to say they should have. I did everything I could to prove my innocence. I passed a polygraph test. I had my hair sampled by one of the world’s foremost toxicologists. WADA agreed that test proved that there was no build up of this substance in my body, which there would have been if I were taking it regularly. Nothing moved the lab from their initial snap decision. Instead, they simply concluded that I was a cheater and that a steroid was ingested orally, but not regularly. I believe my explanation fits the facts much better- because it’s true. I also believe it was dismissed without proper due process.

On June 11th, I received the news that the Court of Arbitration did not accept my explanation of what had occurred and has subsequently banned me from the sport for four years.

I feel completely devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed by the very sport that I’ve loved and poured myself into just to see how good I was.

I want to be very clear. I have never taken any performance enhancing substances. And that includes that of which I am being accused. I believe in the sport and pushing your body to the limit just to see where the limit is. I’m not interested in cheating. I don’t do this for the accolades, money, or for people to know my name. I do this because I love it. I have so much fun doing it and it’s always the best part of my day.


Armour, N. (2021, June 16). Opinion: Could Shelby Houlihan’s tainted burrito claim expose loopholes in doping tests? USA Today. Retrieved from

Associated Press (2021, June 14). Shelby Houlihan banned 4 years. Retrieved from

Chappell, B. (2021, June 15). An Olympic hopeful blames a burrito for her positive drug test. NPR. Retrieved from