Paris 2024: Ysaora Thibus fights the fight of her life to continue dreaming of the Olympic Games

Ysaora Thibus will fight the most important fight of her career on Monday May 13

Paris 2024: Ysaora Thibus fights the fight of her life to continue dreaming of the Olympic Games

Ysaora Thibus will fight the most important fight of her career on Monday May 13. The 32-year-old Frenchwoman must explain to the International Fencing Federation (FIE) disciplinary tribunal why ostarine, an anabolic substance, was detected in her body during a doping test carried out in mid-January.

The 2022 world champion in individual foil, who represents one of the best chances of a gold medal for French fencing at the Paris Olympic Games, takes down one of her last cards in front of her peers to hope to compete under the dome of the Grand Palais on July 28.

The fencer has been provisionally suspended since February 8 following a positive doping test for ostarine carried out during the Mazars challenge in Paris on January 14. Detected in the early 2010s in international sport, this anabolic substance – which therefore increases muscle mass – has been banned since 2015 by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It is administered orally (tablet, capsule, liquid).

Ostarine was certainly detected in small quantities in Ysaora Thibus's body, but the rule is clear: there is a violation of anti-doping legislation as soon as traces, even infinitesimal ones, are found, and even if the athlete was negligent or claims not to have intentionally absorbed the doping product; these last two cases can, however, mitigate the penalty incurred.

By virtue of the principle specific to the fight against doping of objective liability, the athlete is held responsible for the substances found in his body. It is therefore up to him to prove that he has not doped. A difficult task, as a form of “presumption of guilt” rests on the athlete.

The shooter, who, in a press release on February 20, denied “with the greatest firmness [s]having administered any doping substance”, pleads contamination by “exchange of bodily fluids” with her companion, the former foilist American Breed Imboden. As soon as her positive test was announced, the 2021 Olympic team vice-champion had renounced the analysis of the B sample, in order to “present her defense as part of an accelerated procedure”, the only chance for her to participate in the Paris Games.

Ysaora Thibus must prove to the FIE disciplinary tribunal that the concentrations of ostarine detected in her body are so low that they cannot be the result of repeated doses, characteristic of a doping practice. But they can be the residue of a doping product being eliminated. To rule out this possibility, the athlete’s hair analyzes – the true “carbon 14” of anti-doping – must prove negative.

He must also prove that his partner contains sufficiently large quantities to determine that he is indeed the source of the contamination.

This is what she set out to demonstrate. For her defense, the Frenchwoman has enlisted the services of a duo of recognized scientific experts, Gérard Dine and Jean-Claude Alvarez. Director of the Garches toxicology laboratory (Hauts-de-Seine), Professor Alvarez notably allowed the Romanian Simona Halep, former world number one tennis player, to see her sentence reduced to nine months of suspension after a positive test for roxadustat .

According to the Thibus clan, Race Imboden would therefore have ingested a food supplement which contained ostarine before contaminating his partner. On May 7, the newspaper L'Equipe explained how the fencer and her loved ones reconstructed hour by hour, as if for a crime scene, the day of January 14 to support the thesis of involuntary contamination.

The leader of the women's foil team risks up to four years of suspension, according to the world anti-doping code, which sets sanctions depending on the nature of the doping products. Ostarine is a so-called “unspecified” substance according to the WADA, meaning it cannot be taken by mistake or inadvertently. In the event of proven use, the applicable penalty is therefore heavier than for a so-called “specified” substance.

A four-year suspension – reduced to three if the athlete admits the violation of anti-doping rules – would probably mean early retirement from sports for the Guadeloupean, for whom the Paris Games represent the last major career objective.

On the other hand, if Ysaora Thibus manages to prove contamination by a third party – a “fashionable” defense in the world of doping – she could see her sanction reduced or even canceled. The argument allowed Canadian Olympic canoe runner-up Laurence Vincent-Lapointe and American softball player Madilyn Nickles to have their suspensions lifted in 2020, after testing positive for ligandrol, an anabolic agent of the same type. family than ostarine.

The argument of cross-contamination (a kiss) also allowed tennis player Richard Gasquet to be cleared after testing positive for cocaine in 2009.

First victory for the Frenchwoman: she managed to reduce the FIE disciplinary tribunal's deadline of up to six months to hold a hearing. Time is no less limited for the fine tricolor blade. Because the FIE or the World Anti-Doping Agency – criticized in recent days for its supposed complacency towards Chinese swimmers – could appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) a possible decision favorable to Ysaora Thibus.

Nothing would then guarantee that the CAS would examine its case before July 5, the date on which the French Fencing Federation postponed the announcement of the women's foil selection; i.e. just before the validation, on July 8, of the complete list of the French delegation to the Games.

Anti-doping specialists are also skeptical of the defense put forward by Ysaora Thibus. How could Race Imboden, with his past as a former international fencer, have been unaware that he risked contaminating his partner by consuming food supplements containing ostarine, wonders Doctor Jean-Pierre Mondenard. Especially since the American is also one of the champion’s coaches. Spouse contamination is “a risk that has been known for years,” maintains the specialist in doping issues, according to whom the argument is “no longer admissible.”

Finally, in what physical and psychological conditions would Ysaora Thibus approach the Games if she were to be cleared? Her provisional suspension prohibits her from training in federal structures – she continues to do so within her own training cell – and from competing against international competition during preparatory competitions.

The matter seems already understood for a French sports executive, resigned: “It’s annoying…, that’s one less gold medal. »