‘Dream’ drug behind swimmer’s downfall
IF Shayna Jack did cheat, she picked a helluva drug.
Ligandrol - or LGD 4033 - is a black market muscle-builder that's hailed by gym junkies as a way to improve your appearance without any of the nasty side effects experienced with steroid use.
Basically, get big guns without shrinking your you-know-whats.
But it's not just the meat-heads who are mad for it. It's become so sought-after with athletes the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority had to issue a warning recently reminding competitors it's on the banned list.
Its popularity has soared despite, as ASADA noted, it yet being given the all-clear through clinical trials.
So where does it come from? Which athletes have been popped for it? Can it be accidentally ingested? And does Jack - who protests her innocence - have any chance of beating the case against her and competing at next year's Olympics?
DRUG COULD BE 'AN INSTANT BLOCKBUSTER'
Despite only being added to the World Anti-Doping Authority's prohibited list last year, ligandrol - which falls under the category of compounds known as selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) - was first announced to the world by San Diego-based Ligand Pharmaceuticals in 2009.
Initially aimed at growing muscle and bone density for people suffering from a wide-range of diseases and disorders, its focus has recently been narrowed to helping patients who have suffered hip fractures after Ligand turned over its development to another company, Viking Therapeutics.
Rebranded by Viking as VK 5211, the drug was shown to increase muscle and reduce fat in a 12-week clinical trial of 108 patients conducted last year.
It's still a developmental drug but a separate review described it as having the potential to be "an instant blockbuster" if Viking can show it increases life expectancy for elderly people who often don't live long after suffering a hip fracture.
Viking isn't producing any ligandrol products but that hasn't stopped it emerging on the black market. All SARMs are illegal to buy without a valid prescription in Australia but it's readily available for order from a host of websites for as little as $30.
'DREAM' RESULTS FOR BODYBUILDERS
It's also been given the thumbs up by most bodybuilding websites.
Regular users sharing their experience on forums reported an increase in muscle mass and strength within three weeks and described the results after 8-12 weeks as "stunning".
"When you weigh all the pros and cons of this SARM and compare it to other steroids, the decision is obvious," one man wrote in his assessment of the drug.
"It gives you tons of energy and excitement throughout the day. You won't have to go through the ups and downs associated with other drugs, but you will consistently feel positive all day," added another.
Crazybulk.com said the only downside of the "dream" drug was the fact its on the WADA banned list.
Sydney-based scientist Melissa Waine said there was promise in the research but warned against ligandrol use at this stage. "There just is not enough research to show its efficacy at this stage, despite it looking super promising," she said.
THE KEY CASE IN JACK'S FAVOUR
ASADA's warning about ligandrol including data which showed detections in Australian athletes had increased from two in 2015, to six in 2016 and nine in 2017.
There's also been several high-profile international athletes who have returned positive tests in recent years, including NBA player Joakim Noah who was banned for 20 games.
But the case which will offer Jack the most hope is UFC fighter Walt Harris, who was caught with ligandrol in his system at UFC 232 last December.
Harris was able to trace the substance to a supplement he'd begun using ahead of his fight against Andrei Arlovski and prove it wasn't listed on the label.
His suspension was limited to four months and the 36-year-old American has even threatened to sue the company who produces the supplement. "I don't want this as a stain on my career," Harris told The Body Lock website. "I don't want anybody to look at it and go, 'Oh, he's cheating.' That's not who I am."
The website @Dopinglist is a valuable resource.— Richard Ings (@ringsau) July 28, 2019
A search of their database shows 8 sanctions imposed since 2017 for LGD-4033. There are more but these have sanctions imposed. pic.twitter.com/aOLjHM0dKi
While Australian swimmers face a far stiffer challenge than UFC fighters to prove their innocence - and reduce bans, which start at four years - Harris' path is likely the best avenue for Jack.
As well-known Australian specialist sport physician Dr Peter Larkins noted on Twitter, "she only has to produce the alleged supplement to resolve this".
"It will either have ligandrol listed on the package or not," he tweeted. "If it is she has been really dumb … if it's added without declaration (that's) up to her lawyer to sort that one."
So far Jack insists she has no idea how ligandrol was found in her system. Her chances of fulfilling a childhood dream by swimming at next year's Tokyo Olympics could hinge on her ability to find out.