Two days ago, USADA announced that jillion-time US National Cyclocross Champion Katie Compton tested positive for anabolic androgenic steroids. To say this took the US cycling world by surprise is an understatement.
Between top-level results, ready availability for fans and media, and just generally being bad-ass, no other US cyclist comes close to matching the good vibes Compton gathered over her 19-year career.
But for me, all of that went out the window this week. Not necessarily because Compton tested positive, but because she—and especially her husband—did such a terrible job responding to the news.
Response #1: Compton’s Statement
Compton’s statement—visible in full at the bottom here—is a mess. It’s a heartfelt, emotionally-resonant mess, but ultimately doesn’t present a compelling argument or leave the reader with a particularly innocent impression.
After leading off with a statement about being a clean racer, Compton gives case specifics at the top of the second paragraph.
I provided a sample for USADA in September 2020 that came back negative for any banned substances, it was not even atypical.
Except that it very clearly was atypical, as Compton’s own statement admits later.
In early February of 2021…I learned that the same sample from September was re-analyzed due to a bio-passport irregularity and found to be positive for an exogenous anabolic steroid.
OK, so let’s stop on “bio-passport irregularity”, a phrase that is full-term pregnant. It’d be like saying your DNA didn’t match the crime scene but then there was “this thing with the police” and now you’re being charged with murder.
The bio passport guide is long and dense. But if I’m reading it correctly, this sounds a lot like an Atypical Passport Finding (ATPF), backed-up by Confirmation Procedures [Section 3.3, p.36]. Basically, USADA saw something in Compton’s September sample that looked wrong next to her other tests. They then performed a specific, more expensive test that confirmed a doping positive.
So while I think Compton means to make this seem suspicious, she’s actually describing the correct protocol. She’s even own-goaling a bit by highlighting that there are two separate data points indicating her guilt.
Still, Compton doesn’t question the test result. The next step is generally the athlete trying to show they didn’t intentionally ingest the substance. Compton at first appears to be no different.
I have never intentionally or knowingly put anything like that into my body
But then she starts the next paragraph by abruptly declaring that that she “decided to retire in March”. This feels deeply incongruous—she didn’t announce her retirement in March, after all.
And as Compton very well knows, Denise Betsema got barely a six-month vacay in a very similar case. If Compton could manage to track down the source of her positive for a similar sanction, she’d have been back in competition well ahead of a planned farewell season. So why make the retirement call in March?
In the same breath, Compton also mentions she’d “hired a lawyer” and done her best to “investigate how the substance got into [her] system”. Forgive me for thinking that seems like an awfully expensive and time-consuming thing for a now-retired athlete to do for the sake of pride.
It sounds a lot more like Compton initially decided to fight the charge, and just couldn’t find a reasonable source for the substance in question. Testosterone (as the offending substance seems to be) doesn’t survive oral consumption well, and doesn’t come on taco trucks, making accidental ingestion a tough case.
Dating the retirement decision to March feels like a transparent attempt to take less of an “L”. Maybe Compton wants to avoid “officially” ending her career with a suspension. Maybe it’s her way of saying “you can’t fire me, I quit”. But regardless, it’s someone making a case for her own trustworthiness not being fully honest with her audience.
I’m Not Unsympathetic
And I mean, I get it—this is tough emotionally. Compton’s statement carries the disordered anguish of someone who cannot fully accept their fate. She mentions the end of her career repeatedly, seemingly re-forgetting she’d already announced it each time.
There are similar double-backs on not wanting to compete anymore, and on the supposed inability to explain how the substance got into her body. She even drops an “allegedly” while describing the presence of a substance she’s ostensibly not challenging.
…trying to figure what allegedly got into my body proved to be impossible.
Rather than a lawyer, Compton might have been better served by spokesperson. Or a grief counselor. Or, as 90’s MTB legend Alison Sydor suggests, the efforts of an investigative journalist. “I caught a raw deal, but we’re double-checking the system to protect others” is a much more heartening note to go out on.
Response #2: Mark Legg’s Facebook Post
I can’t tell you how much I wish this had ended with Compton’s statement. It didn’t make a great case, but I feel for her. Then the next day, her husband Mark Legg showed up to yank that sympathy tubular right off the rim.
Hole Shot to Crazy Town
Legg’s response is a Facebook rant of MyPillow level unhinged-ness.
Katie was tested in September 2020 using the last ball bearing bottle aka the Beringer [sic] bottle which was taken out of use due to the Icarus documentary on Russians swapping out urine samples which came back negative. This contrasts what [sic] USADA has stated.
This is, honestly, the least insane thing in the post.
Russian agents at Sochi did indeed overcome the Berlinger bottles’ tamper-proofing to swap samples. Following the success of German researchers in both cracking and completely duplicating newer Berlinger revisions, USADA announced last year it was switching to a different bottle entirely.
Their timeline to complete this changeover was “end of 2020”. So it’s entirely possible Compton got a Berlinger. But this doesn’t “contrast” with anything USADA has stated, and I’m extremely skeptical she got the “last” one.
And while Legg points all this out to raise the possibility of sample tampering, Don Catlin—founder of the LA lab at which Compton’s sample was processed, openly admits he’s not sure how the Russians did it.
Additionally, an investigation into the Sochi sample-swapping, which did duplicate the procedure used by the Russians, revealed it leaves “scratches and marks on the inside of the cap”. So if this is really the place Legg wants to go, we’ve got the technology to follow up. Why not just ask to examine the bottle?
In early January I contacted an ant-doping [sic] agency regarding issues in cyclocross. We had a video conference with the agency while we were in Belgium on January 19th.
Which anti-doping agency? What “issues in cyclocross”? How did you contact them? All of these details are critical both for testing whether your story is true, and for potentially bringing you justice in the event that it is. If you want people to not treat you like a raging lunatic, you need to bring receipts.
Hours after the call a lab in LA started re-testing Katie’s Sept sample that had previously been declared negative. The result of the retest was positive for exogenous testosterone. We received news of this test mid-Feb.
Again—receipts. How did you know this happened “hours” after your call with this unnamed agency? If there’s a letter or an email, you should post it.
The implication is clearly that, somehow, an unnamed anti-doping agency contacted the LA lab to secretly concoct a positive test. Most orgs in cycling aren’t exactly known for action at this level of speed, but without mentioning who Legg claims he talked to, no one can follow up.
Can’t Keep The Story Straight
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll also note that Legg’s post contains no mention of the “bio-passport irregularity” mentioned in his wife’s statement. It’s an important inconsistency, since it undercuts his implication of punitive retesting. It also represents a fairly serious change in the story between their two recollections.
And this is important. As I mentioned with Compton’s “retirement” announcement, self-serving revisionism hurts your declaration of honesty. And yesterday afternoon, Legg made a pretty huge revision to his Facebook post, deleting a claim about a “compromised UCI member”.
Granted, no one who knows that particular acronym will find this claim entirely outlandish. I’d love to have heard more, but again—without saying who, or even what role this “compromised UCI member” held, it’s all so much farting into the wind. And the mere fact of this deletion is yet another patch on an increasingly threadbare narrative.
Similar consistency issues come up around Legg’s claims of Compton using “the same supplements all year”. Barely 18 months ago, Compton was claiming she didn’t use any, and if she did, that still wouldn’t be an excuse for a positive test.
And this, in itself, is a pretty sharp contradiction with numerous articles mentioning her supplement use, in addition to some sponcon she churned out back in 2017. For people who keep citing their own honesty, Team Compton sure does seem to have trouble keeping their story straight.
The Simplest Explanation
If you’re willing to work hard enough, there are rebuttals to all this. Compton is only documented taking “unsketchy” supplements like fish oil and amino acids. Legg and Compton were too busy focusing on the legal fight to coordinate facts for a smooth media response. The McLaren Report taught the LA lab how to compromise samples. And on and on.
But at a certain point, the contortions get tiring. Undeniably, the most reasonable explanation for all of the evidence in this case is that Comtpon used testosterone. That doesn’t mean accidental consumption or the Thomas Crown hijinks of UCI whistleblower retaliation aren’t possible. Every so often one does actually fall on a Fusilli Jerry. But it doesn’t happen much.
I do genuinely wish Compton’s team had taken Sydor’s advice and contacted Seppelt. His investigations are crucial and unflinching, and have recently brought up the potential for weaponized testosterone positives. But I also think if Legg’s claims had merit, any half-decent legal counsel would have steered them in that direction.
A Graceful Exit Was Open
The sad part of all this is none of it really matters. Facts, evidence, all that—it’s terrible at changing people’s minds. A testosterone patch livestream still probably wouldn’t sway the stans on Legg’s FB post. Similarly, you don’t have to look hard to find people who always knew any pro cyclist was on drugs.
Plus, Compton’s competitive elite career was effectively over. She’s 42 and failed to record a single Top 10 result in world-level competition last season. It would have been easy to make a statement to the effect of “I’m getting a raw deal, I didn’t do this, but it makes no sense to fight.” Will Frischkorn, who managed a pretty reasonable clean career, basically said that’s how he’d go down after a certified mail scare from the UCI.
And there’d be value in that—a powerful narrative of accepting fallout from the Noble Lie, taking one for the team. Certainly the media was ready. Former CyclingTips and VeloNews editor Neal Rogers said Compton’s statement was “absolutely worth consideration.” Longtime Cyclingnews editor Laura Weislo responded to the news with Seppelt’s work on false positives.
A graceful exit isn’t necessarily rolling over. With six months between the positive result and now, Team Compton could have seeded some of this story to the press, and found something to better support their claims, or at least better present them. Some question-mark journalism (“Did USADA’s Bottle Transition Fail Katie Compton?”) in their favor. Emotional, think-piece exit interviews. A sad ending, but one an audience could have made peace with.
Violence Rage Quit
But they didn’t do that. Even with the gift of half-a-year to craft their contribution to their cycling story’s conclusion, the Comptons decided to go out with a typo-ridden, fuming rage quit. To a story now wreathed in the hazy miasma of doping, they chose to add the fetid stench of conspiracy theory as well.
And for me, that says a lot about this case. All efforts to mete out justice are inevitably flawed, and sometimes those flaws result in unfair outcomes. For someone burned by such an outcome, but who also believes that a system of enforcement is necessary, the instinct would be reform. How do we make this work better so that dopers are caught and clean riders aren’t?
We didn’t get that here. We got excuses, self-serving revisions, and an effort to disparage the legitimacy of the system rather than accept its facts. This isn’t the reaction of someone was punished unfairly; it’s the reaction of someone who’s just pissed off they got caught.
Outside the ratio isotope testing, the most compelling evidence against Team Compton is the testimony they gave themselves.