Suspension reinstated to two years
By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) announced Wednesday that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) Appeals Board in Switzerland overturned the original decision to lessen the suspension of Australian cyclist Nathan O'Neill from 24 months to 15 months, returning the ban to the maximum of two years and keeping O'Neill out of racing until June of 2010. This change is a result of an appeal filed by ASADA along with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the UCI to push for the maximum ban.
O'Neill, an 8-time Australian national time trial champion, tested positive for the appetite suppressant Phentermine at the 2007 Tour of Elk Grove in which O'Neill won the prologue time trial and overall title. He quickly admitted to taking the drug for its intended use out of competition only, and apologized for it, stating that he did not do so for any performance enhancement purposes.
Under the WADA code athletes are permitted to use Phentermine when not in competition. The positive test came about from trace amounts of the drug left in his system during competition. Subsequently, his team released him and his race result was redacted.
ASADA had originally pushed for O'Neill to serve the maximum two-year ban for the positive test, though O'Neill had immediately stopped racing upon learning of the test in September of 2007 and cooperated with authorities. O'Neill appealed to the CAS which agreed with him that he was "able to demonstrate a degree of no significant fault or negligence," and thereby reduced the ban to 15 months. This would have put him back to racing at the start of 2009.
As of November of 2008, ASADA was still arguing the details of the ban, claiming that it should start from the date of notification and not from the voluntary stoppage in racing. Regardless, either start date of the 15 month ban would have still put O'Neill eligible to take out a racing license in January of 2009.
However, it appears that at this hearing ASADA also restated its case for the maximum two year ban and the CAS Appeals Board agreed. "In upholding the appeal of ASADA, WADA and the UCI, the CAS Appeals Panel found significant fault and negligence on the part of Mr. O'Neill in ingesting Phentermine before competition and then competing whilst the substance was in his system," the ASADA statement said. "In determining the matter, the CAS wrote, 'Also of importance is the evidence from Mr O'Neill that he took the risk because he was of the view that without Phentermine he was not going to be competitive. Mr O'Neill therefore self-medicated with a view of gaining a competitive advantage.'"
Cyclingnews reached O'Neill at his home in the American state of Georgia on Thursday. "I only found out about this 48 hours ago from my lawyer," he said. "I haven't even talked to him yet. So I don't want to make an official comment until I do."
O'Neill's surprise with the decision was also evident in a recent news story in which he spoke about his team for 2009. He had planned to race in 2009 with the newly combined V Australia/Successful Living team. However, the reinstatement of the original 24 month ban also means it takes effect on the original decision date, June 13, 2008 – resulting in a reinstatement date of June 13, 2010