Margo Mackintosh shares anti-doping violation experience

by Courtney Akrigg on 16 Nov, 2019 11:11 • EspaƱol
Margo Mackintosh shares anti-doping violation experience

Margo Mackintosh is a top performing age-group triathlete from Australia, who like the majority of triathletes, takes supplements to assist with recovery, immune system and energy levels before and during training.

In May 2019, Mackintosh received an Anti-Doping Violation Notification from the International Triathlon Union (ITU), based on the finding of a prohibited substance in a sample provided after a win at the World Duathlon Championships in Pontevedra, Spain.

Mackintosh was thrown into an instant state of disbelief and panic, believing that there must have been a mistake. It wasn’t until Mackintosh received further guidance from a member of the ITU that the Australian triathlete was eventually able to clinch and accept the consequences of the notice.

“I love the sport of triathlon and am devastated and deeply regretful that my ignorance to the dangers of consuming supplements has brought disrepute to my reputation, my club, my coach and the sport that has brought me so much enjoyment.

Obviously I thought long and hard about sharing my story, knowing that this would leave me vulnerable to gossip, speculation and judgement. But ultimately, I know that I am a person of integrity, whose participation in sport is driven purely by the unadulterated joy and fulfilment that it has brought to my life. And I know that everything that I have ever achieved has come through hard work, sacrifice and dedication to my sport. So, at the risk of being labelled and condemned by those who do not know me, I have elected to share my story, in the hope that it will help to ensure that no other well-intentioned athlete finds themselves living a similar nightmare.

My intention is now to try to get on with doing what I love ..triathlon.”
 
Margo Mackintosh bravely shares her experience with the hope to help others and will continue to approach the sport with integrity and devotion.

Your background, love for sport, family and where you live?

Sport and fitness has always played a massive part of my life.
Since my parents enrolled me in the Tumut Little Athletics Club at age 5, I have loved to run! While I certainly wasn’t a naturally gifted athlete like my elder sister, what I lacked in raw talent, I made up for with a love for training and a gritty determination to better myself through hard work. Training has always been my “happy place” and provided me with a sense of purpose.

My love for sport continued right through my secondary schooling and university years where I continued to compete at a high level in both track and field (middle distance running) and touch football. But it was in 2009 that I really found my calling, when I decided to join Club Croc Triathlon Squad in Brisbane, coached by the incredible Brad Beven.

For the first time since school, I felt like I had found “my people” and I was suddenly surrounded by inspiring and supportive like-minded people, whose idea of a great weekend involved running, riding and eating!

Having come from a background that involved very limited swimming, the challenge of developing my swimming from a mid/back of the pack swimmer excited me, but certainly tested my resolve. While I never really enjoyed the company of “the black line”, my perseverance was inspired as I continued to move up lanes and eventually, closer to the front of the pack in my age group.

Since my introduction to the sport, it has been incredibly rewarding to achieve age group success in races all around Australia in Sprint – 70.3 distances. However, it has always been the training, people and the lifestyle that triathlon has offered me that has brought me the greatest fulfillment.

My passion for health and fitness has driven all of facets of my life, including my career. Completing a Bachelor of Secondary Education, I went on to become a Sports Coordinator, then Head of Sport at one of Brisbane’s most esteemed girls’ schools, before taking on the role of Executive Officer of a girls sporting association. As a passionate ambassador for women’s sport, I have built my career around empowering young women to become life-long participants in sport and exercise.

Achievements in the sport of triathlon to date, greatest memories?

Over my 10-years in the sport, I have been fortunate enough to have achieved some great success. Among my fondest racing memories are:

• First Noosa Triathlon win – 2009
• Fastest Age-Grouper at Sydney & Geelong Triathlons in the 2011/2012 Australian series.
• Fastest Age-Grouper at the 2012 Cairns 70.3
• Sprint Distance Age Group World Champion 2016 with the fastest run-split of day and second quickest bike and overall time.
• Western Australian 70.3 first female 2016.
• Fastest age -grouper and Australian Sprint Distance Champion 2017.
• First Female at the Huskisson Classic Distance Triathlon 2019.

Do you train in a triathlon club?

At the end of 2015 I started training with Coach Ross Young, of Tempo Systems. Ross has been an incredible coach and pillar of support, who has not only guided me through some very challenging injuries, but has also helped me to get me back running at my very best.
I am also very fortunate to have the assistance of Coach Toby Coote and the SCTA squad at Kawana Pool, who has been of huge assistance with improving my swim, in addition to Troy Fidler’s lunch time swim squad in Brisbane.

What does it mean to aspire to be a World Triathlete, representing Australia?

As previously mentioned, my whole career has been built around inspiring young women to stay involved in sport and exercise throughout their lives. With this in mind, I hope that my aspirations and commitment to my sport, (even at an amateur level) will inspire other young women to do the same.
Triathlon training has been my saving grace, as it has provided me with an outlet and a real sense of purpose. It has not only ensured that I stay physically fit and healthy, but has seen me through some very stressful and mentally challenging times in my life.

That being said, “representing Australia” as an age grouper in Mexico and Spain has been more about proving to myself what I am capable of, setting goals and working hard to achieve them. There is a big difference between professional and age-group athletes, but ultimately we are all racing against ourselves, and success can only be measured against our own benchmarks.

About your experience with what happened with the charge?

In the last week of May, my world was turned upside down when I received a Possible Anti-Doping Violation Notification from the ITU, based on the finding of a prohibited substance in the sample I provided after my win at the World Duathlon Championships in Spain. I was thrown into an instant state of disbelief and panic, believing that there must have been a mistake, as put simply, I would NEVER even consider taking a banned substance. It has always been my opinion that doping epitomises the ultimate form of disrespect for sport and those who choose to work hard and sacrifice so much to compete under the virtues of fair-play.

I had never even heard of the substance that had been found in my sample and had used the Global DRO website to check all of my nutrition, supplements and medications, believing this to be more than sufficient to ensure that what I consumed was WADA compliant.

Long story short, the finding had left me feeling panicked, isolated, helpless and at a complete loss as to where I could possibly have gone so wrong. It wasn’t until I received further guidance from a member of the ITU, that I was eventually able to establish the source of my adverse analytical finding. 
 
A recently-banned specified substance, Higenamine, found in a variety of plant sources used in traditional Chinese Medicine and increasingly utilised in the supplement industry, was found as an ingredient in the pre-workout sports drink that I had consumed prior to my race in Spain. The ingredient had been listed by the manufacturer under an alternate name (Nelumbo Nucifera Seed Extract), not listed on the WADA prohibited list and therefore, my steps to ensure that my race-day nutrition were compliant had been undermined.

Needless to say, as an athlete I have to take responsibility for everything that I consume, and ultimately, the decision to take any supplement falls on me. My motivation for taking this drink, however, was as innocent as taking a caffeinated gel, and I am devastated that this honest, yet seemingly unavoidable oversight has threatened to destroy my reputation and tarnish everything I have worked so hard to achieve.

Based on the evidence that I was able to provide, the fact that I had listed the drink on my doping-control form, my forthright cooperation with ITU, and the fact that it was a “specified substance” that I had consumed,I was offered a reduced suspension of 90 days (concluding 1st August), reflective of what was deemed to be the lowest degree of fault or negligence on my part, and the high risk of inadvertent doping with this particular substance.
Irrespective of the minimal period of ineligibility offered by the ITU, however, the anguish experienced throughout this ordeal, not to mention the hit to my reputation, is what has really hurt me and the impact will stay with me for many years to come. This is something I wish on no one! Hence, I now hope that in sharing my experience through the right channels that no other athlete finds themselves in the same position.

Did you seek any support or advice from friends?

I was very lucky to have the support of my coach, family and friends throughout the entire process, for which I feel incredibly grateful. I was also incredibly grateful for the support and guidance offered by the anti-doping director of the ITU.

Looking ahead, what do you aspire to achieve in the sport?

I certainly feel like I have some great racing ahead of me, but am certainly looking forward to some destination racing in future years, with maybe Bermuda and some Asia-pacific races on the cards. Most importantly though, I just want to keep loving what I do and never take for granted the fact that I am able to do this sport.
As my coach once said to me, “You don’t have to do this training. You get to.”

Margo_Mackintosh

How to avoid situations like this?

Like the majority of triathletes, I chose to take supplements, for a number of reasons, including to assist with recovery, boost my immune system, balance a vegetarian diet, and assist with energy levels before and during exercise when regular food cannot be tolerated. And while I have always taken steps to ensure that what I consumed was WADA compliant, I now know just how naive I was about the real risks associated with taking supplements.

Current legislation means that the transparency of supplement companies is largely unregulated. These companies are essentially unrestricted to manufacture supplements containing “specified substances” listed on WADA’s prohibited list. More concerning, these companies often list these ingredients under pseudo-names (alternate names and/or spellings) not identifiable on the WADA prohibited list; market their products as “sports” supplements; and are readily stocked by most “reputable” supplement stores.

Under WADA rules, ignorance about a substance being banned or ‘inadvertent use,’ are not valid excuses. Athletes are responsible for any banned substance they ingest, regardless of the means. Based on this policy of ‘strict liability’ combined with the deceptive practices of supplement companies, it is little wonder that an increasing number of honest, well-intentioned athletes are finding themselves wrongfully labelled as drug cheats and having their lives destroyed.

What I now know is that to protect yourself and everything you stand for, it is imperative that you only consider taking dietary supplements and natural products that have been certified by a trusted third-party provider to be free of banned substances. Conversely, until legislation is changed regarding the regulation of supplement companies, athletes are effectively playing Russian Roulette when consuming any uncertified supplement, even those that claim to be “safe” for athletes to take.

Margo_story_AUS

Anything else you would like to add?

Naturally, I am outraged at the supplement manufacturer’s irresponsible and deceptive mis-labelling of their product. But ultimately, I now know that this oversight is mine to own, and playing the victim is not going to help me move forward. Instead, I am choosing to ensure that my story helps to prevent someone else from experiencing the same affliction.

I love the sport of triathlon and am devastated and deeply regretful that my ignorance to the dangers of consuming supplements has brought disrepute to my reputation, my club, my coach and the sport that has brought me so much enjoyment.

Obviously I thought long and hard about sharing my story, knowing that this would leave me vulnerable to gossip, speculation and judgement. But ultimately, I know that I am a person of integrity, whose participation in sport is driven purely by the unadulterated joy and fulfilment that it has brought to my life. And I know that everything that I have ever achieved has come through hard work, sacrifice and dedication to my sport. So, at the risk of being labelled and condemned by those who do not know me, I have elected to share my story, in the hope that it will help to ensure that no other well-intentioned athlete finds themselves living a similar nightmare.

My intention is now to try to get on with doing what I love which is triathlon training, with the occasional race thrown in, just to justify all my hours of training. This is certainly something that will stay with me for years to come, but I am doing my best to move forward and am forever grateful for those who have supported and stood by me throughout this awful chapter.

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