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Brianna McNeal, 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist, Receives 5-Year Ban for Missing Drug Tests

In a New York Times report, McNeal said she missed an out-of-competition drug test while recovering from an abortion.

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Brianna McNeal, who won the 2016 Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles, will not defend her title at the Tokyo Games after losing her appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, officials announced on Friday. She is not accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs, but had been provisionally suspended since April after missing an out-of-competition drug test and what officials called tampering with the doping control process.

McNeal, 29, was allowed to compete at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials as her case was pending. She placed second in the 100-meter finals, though U.S.A. Track & Field allowed nine competitors in the final (instead of the typical eight) knowing that McNeal may become ineligible to compete at the Tokyo Games. She will be replaced on the Olympic team by Gabbi Cunningham, who finished fourth. Keni Harrison and Christina Clemons will also compete for Team USA in the event.

McNeal is the second U.S. sprinter to be replaced on the U.S. Olympic team. Sha-Carri Richardson, the winner of the 100-meters, said on Friday that she accepted a one-month suspension after testing positive at the Trials for THC, from marijuana use.

In a report published on Thursday in the New York Times, McNeal said that she had missed a doping test in January 2020 because she was in bed recovering from an abortion. Though she had wanted to keep it private, she felt that she had to divulge the matter to anti-doping officials in order to clear her name.

The official charge is “tampering or attempted tampering with any part of doping control.” Athletes in the drug-testing pool must make themselves available every day for random testing, updating their whereabouts information with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency, and letting them know a time and location that a tester may visit. If athletes miss three tests in a 12-month period, they face a ban from the sport.

After leading the U.S. in a podium sweep of the 100-meter hurdles in Rio, McNeal served a one-year suspension in 2017 for missing three tests. At the time she said she forgot to update her whereabouts in the system and also entered the wrong time that she’d be available.

Her current suspension began August 15, 2020 and her results from February 13, 2020 through August 14, 2020, are disqualified. McNeal will also miss the 2024 Olympics.

In the New York Times article, McNeal said that she submitted notes from her doctor to prove she had a medical procedure, but the dates on the paperwork were incorrect so she changed them to reflect the correct timing. She also said that she suffered depression after the abortion, leading her to seek a spiritual adviser for help.

“I tried to keep the abortion private, but they just kept tugging and tugging at me, wanting more information,” McNeal told the New York Times. “I couldn’t believe that I was charged with a violation because I had the dates mixed up by just 24 hours. It’s not like the procedure didn’t happen.”