On one hand, we want to hold Barbara Gicquel up as an Age Boldly role model. The California woman started cycling at 57, and even after years as a smoker, she has consistently won races in her age group. Last year, she set a world record for her age in a 500-meter time trial, speeding around the steeped curves of a veloway.
But after the world record, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency gave her a urine test and found that she had an anabolic steroid called methyltestosterone in her system. The steroid has long been on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances.
Gicquel’s defense is that methyltestosterone is an ingredient in Estratest, a hormone replacement drug taken by menopausal women. She says that she was taking a very low dose that had never showed up in drug testing before.
If her case were just that simple. we’d be be rushing to back her up. It would be very unfair to punish a menopausal woman for seeking relief from hot flashes and the like, right?
The Plot Thickens
However, Gicquel claims that her Estratest prescription was also meant to treat bronchitis, and that she was prescribed it in 2005 after she’d developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Strangely, in no official literature on Estratest is it mentioned as a treatment for bronchitis, and the doctor who prescribed the medication for her is not practicing any longer. (Which begs the question: How did she keep getting the prescription refilled?)
Probably most damning to Gicquel’s case is the fact that she didn’t report her use of Estratest on her list of medications she submitted before competing last August. She felt it was a non-issue because the drug was providing important health benefits, not athletic ones.
In her appeal, Gicquel wrote that the omission “was easy to justify that since the list was written with young elite female athletes in mind, it really wasn’t meant for older women like myself, so I continued to take it as prescribed, fearful that if I didn’t, [my condition] might well get worse and I might lose my health and even my life earlier than necessary.”
Her appeal was denied because the USADA ruled she hadn’t established a medical condition that required the use of methyltestosterone. Her world record was wiped out and she was suspended from the sport for a year.
So, the question remains was she unfairly treated because of her age, or was she using her age as a way to escape the charge?
Still, can we just say that an 80-year-old woman competing at such a high level is cause for admiration and awe, we just wish that steroids never entered the picture.