Peter Bol doping scandal takes huge twist after scientists speak out

A group of doping scientists believe the evidence against Australian 800m runner Peter Bol is less than convincing.

Peter Bol stands on the podium at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Peter Bol has seen a glimmer of hope in his anti-doping proceedings, with four researchers raising concerns over the tests used to detect performance-enhancing substances. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

Peter Bol has found an unlikely source of support as the Australian 800m runner prepares to defend himself after an out of competition doping Test late last year returned a positive result. Bol was provisionally suspended by Sports Integrity Australia in January, after his A sample tested positive for the performance enhanching drug erythropoietin, commonly known as EPO.

The Olympics and Commonwealth Games hero has strenuously denied taking any prohibited substances, and is cooperating with investigators as he awaits the results of his B sample. The 28-year-old said he was 'totally shocked' by the news of his positive test.

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Some good news has come for Bol though, in the form of four scientists from Norway who have raised concerns about the techniques used by WADA laboratories to test for EPO. The group, comprising of Oslo professors of biochemistry and molecular biology Jon Nissen-Meyer, Tore Skotland, Erik Boye and Bjarne Osterud, are likely to be called by Bol's lawyer, Paul Greene, in his defence.

Bol has requested that his B sample be tested using two different methods for detecting EPO - the SAR-PAGE method that was applied to his A sample, as well as the previously used isoelectric focusing (IEF) method. The B sample will be tested this week, following payment of the $1200 fee to do so.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, professor Nissen-Meyer said he had reservations about WADA's methodology for detecting the performance enhancing EPO. “I believe subjectivity and interpretation of results is still occurring and [is] a problem in doping cases. There has definitely not been an improvement to create complete objectivity,” he said.

"There is some ambiguity in some SAR-PAGE test results, especially if too much of the athlete’s sample is added to the testing gel. Overloading the gel may cause the athlete’s normal EPO band to become broad (spread out) and create so-called tailing.

“A broad band (with tailing) of normal EPO may be interpreted wrongly that synthetic EPO together with normal EPO has created a broad band.

“There are some genetic variants of normal EPO that might cause it to behave as synthetic EPO in the SAR-PAGE test. WADA says it’s not a problem because they test for these variants; I am not certain that they in fact have full control with all possible genetic variants.

“The amount of normal EPO found in the urine may in any case vary for one and the same person, depending on the physiological condition of the person at the time his urine sample was collected. If the concentration of normal EPO is extremely high, then the problem of overloading the gel might occur.”

Peter Bol determined to beat anti-doping case after positive test

Bol posted a statement shortly after news of his positive test broke. The Commonwealth Games silver medallist said his career now 'hangs in the balance'.

“It is critically important to convey with the strongest conviction that I am innocent and have not taken this substance as I am accused," Bol wrote in his statement. "I ask everyone in Australia, believe me and let the process play out. When I found out last week that they A sample from a urine test taken on 11 October had tested positive for synthetic EPO I was in total shock.

“To be clear I have NEVER in my life purchased, researched, possessed, administered or used synthetic EPO or any other Prohibited Substance. I voluntarily turned over my laptop, iPad and phone to Sport Integrity Australia to prove this.

Peter Bol drapes an Australian flag over his shoulders after winning silver in the 800m event at the Commonwealth Games.
Peter Bol has returned a positive A sample for a performance enhancing substance and has been provisionally suspended. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

“I have requested the analysis of my B sample which will take place in February. Given the subjective nature of interpreting this kind of test, I have asked that the lab perform a secondary confirmation.

“Above all, I remain hopeful that the process will exonerate me. My career, hopes and dreams are literally hanging in the balance over these next few weeks and I ask everyone to respect my privacy as I remain provisionally suspended.”

Under his provisional suspension, Bol will be barred from training or coaching at a club, state, or national level, nor can he receive any official funding. Athletics Australia CEO Peter Bromley said the failed test was a major concern.

Born in Sudan, Bol and his family emigrated to Egypt before eventually arriving in Australia and setting in Perth after gaining humanitarian status through the United Nations Human Rights Commission. He began doing long-distance running after realising it suited him better than basketball at the age of 16.

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