The cycling world today received some shocking news: American Katie Compton has accepted a 4 year suspension from competitive cycling, following an anti-doping rule violation - testing positive for an anabolic agent.
Who is Katherine Compton?
Katherine Compton, more commonly known as Katie Compton or simply "KFC" is the most-decorated American cyclocross athlete of all time. In addition to 15 national titles in the United States, Compton enjoyed the most success of any American rider in Europe, especially in World Cup events where she amassed more than twenty wins over a lengthy career.
Compton (pictured here at the 2019 USA Cycling cyclocross national championship) also had several near-misses at the World Cyclocross Championship, finishing second on four separate occasions.
What we know so far
Per the USADA press release, Compton tested positive on a drug test conducted out of competition on September 16, 2020. While USADA has not shared the specific details at this time, a urine sample was analyzed with a Carbon Isotope Ratio test, designed to differentiate between the anabolic androgenic steroids (which are produced naturally by the human body) and anabolic agents of external origin, which are, of course, prohibited. Discrepancies in the biological passport program apparently prompted the follow-up testing.
What is an anabolic agent?
Anabolic agents are powerful performance-enhancing drugs. The USADA statement did not list the specific anabolic agent in question. The list of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) published by USADA is substantial, and includes familiar names like testosterone.
Katie Compton's statement
Compton released an official response to the USADA suspension:
Here's the statement pic.twitter.com/QSxpgEII9s— Neal Rogers (@nealrogers) August 11, 2021
Mark Legg's statement
Mark Legg, husband of Katie Compton who has acted as her mechanic throughout her career, posted the following statement on Facebook. The portion in bold is my emphasis:
"Katie was tested in September 2020 using the last ball bearing bottle aka the Beringer bottle which was taken out of use due the Icarus documentary on Russians swapping out urine samples which came back negative. This contrasts what USADA have stated. In early January I contacted an ant-doping agency regarding issues in Cyclocross and a comprised UCI member. We had a video conference with the agency while we were in Belgium on January 19th. 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 testerone. We received news of this test mid-Feb. We were devastated and confused. Katie used the same supplements all season and was tested as usual in and out of Competition with no issues. We’re now both taking anti-depressants to cope with the mental stress. We’ve both had depression and suicidal thoughts over the past months. Fortunately we sort help for our mental struggles. We hired lawyers and fought this as hard as we could afforf until we couldn’t keep throwing money at a hopeless situation..."
This statement appears to hint at some sort of conspiracy within the UCI, or that Compton was retaliated against. Later, as pointed out in Cosmo Catalano's interesting article on this same topic, the portion of the post containing the text "comprised (note: Legg presumably meant 'compromised') UCI member" was later deleted, and no longer appears in Legg's post.
Other doping cases
Compton's suspension must be evaluated alongside other notable suspensions. The obvious parallel is to the suspension of Denise Betsema, who received a backdated, 6 month suspension following a failed test. It's worth noting that Betsema was able to contest her result by demonstrating that she had consumed a contaminated sports supplement. Compton was vocal in her objection to Betsema's short suspension, and called for stronger penalties throughout her career.
Compton, in her statement, indicated she had hired an attorney, but ultimately decided to accept the suspension in part because any supplements she consumed were long gone, due to the amount of time passing between the date of the sample (September 2020) and the date she was notified of the positive test result (February 2021).
Compton's longtime sponsor Trek Bikes, issued a curt press release through Cyclingnews: "We were made aware of Katie's positive test and are disappointed by the news. We trust the process was fair and respect USADA's decision and Katie's decision to retire. We wish her well with her future endeavors."
From a timing standpoint, this sanction trims the final season off a career that was already ending. Compton had already previously announced her planned retirement following the conclusion of the 2021/22 cyclocross season, which includes the Fayetteville, Arkansas World Championship on USA soil next Spring. With a 4 year ban in place, the planned "farewell tour" will not be possible.
There will be discussion and speculation from both sides. Perhaps in the future more information will be released by Compton or USADA that may add clarity beyond what we know today. Social media is abuzz with comments ranging the entire spectrum from "no surprise, I knew it", to "I trust Katie absolutely". American cycling fans, let down by repeated disclosures from riders they once trusted, are a jaded bunch.
Regardless of your perspective or assumptions about Katie Compton, we can all agree on one thing - it's a sad day for American cyclocross.
In Fall 2019 I traveled to the cyclocross national championship in Washington State, expecting to see "KFC" take 16 titles in a row. Instead, I got to see the first title from Clara Honsinger. Born in 1997 (she was 2 years old when Lance Armstrong started winning Tour de France titles), we can hope that Honsinger, the heir apparent, and others from the next generation, race clean.