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‘That’s when I knew’: Peter Bol reveals unseen side of positive drug test in exclusive interview with 7NEWS Spotlight

‘That’s when I knew’: Peter Bol reveals unseen side of positive drug test in exclusive interview with 7NEWS Spotlight
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Two-time Olympian and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Peter Bol is the fastest ever Australian over 800 metres.

At the Tokyo games, it took little more than 100 seconds for Bol to become a household name – a true Aussie hero.


Watch the latest sport on Channel 7 or stream for free on 7plus >>

But 18 months later, on January 10, everything changed when the 29-year-old tested positive to the performance enhancing drug EPO.

He was immediately suspended from all competition, worldwide.

He told his story to 7NEWS Spotlight correspondent, Michael Usher.

Michael Usher: Did you inject yourself with EPO?

Peter Bol: Absolutely not. I’ve never used or possessed any performance enhancing drugs.

Michael Usher: Did anybody else inject you with EPO?

Peter Bol: Absolutely not.

Michael Usher: Could you have accidentally been injected with EPO?

Peter Bol: You can’t accidentally inject EPO into your body, and that’s a clear no.

Michael Usher: Are you a drug cheat?

Peter Bol: No.

Michael Usher: How do you explain the positive result from the test on your system to EPO?

Peter Bol: I guess must be a mistake because I’m 100 per cent certain of my innocence. I’m not sure whether it’s the test or what’s going on, but I’ve never used it, not in my innocence, and the truth will come out eventually.

They’re the questions Peter Bol hasn’t answered publicly, until now, nearly two months since an early morning knock on the door flipped his reputation from sporting legend to suspected drug cheat.

The knock at the door

“I went and opened the door and I looked at the testers and I thought it was just a casual drug test as usual,” Bol said.

“So, I think I said to them, is it urine or blood today? And they said, ‘I’m afraid it’s something else’. And I think that’s when I knew. It was an awkward lift up to my apartment.”

Once in the apartment, the testers sat Bol down and said, “You’ve tested positive for EPO.”

Erythropoietin (EPO) is a drug secreted in the kidney which stimulates red blood cell production in the bone marrow, and is among the most common performance enhancing drugs in endurance sport.

Olympian Peter Bol says he has been cleared of doping after his A and B samples did not match. Credit: AAP

The first call Bol made was to his coach, Justin Rinaldi.

“I literally thought it was a joke at first, and then he said, ‘I’m on speakerphone and the drug testers are here’.” Justin said.

Bol told the testers he had absolutely nothing to hide and immediately handed over his phone, laptop and passwords. He also invited them to search his house.

“As soon as they said you had to inject into yourself, I knew it’s just a terrible mistake.” Bol said. “Or I think I said something like… it’s either a set-up or it’s a big mistake because there is no way I’d ever even consider cheating in this sport.

The champion runner says the only injections he’s taken in recent memory were the COVID vaccines.

His coach also strongly denies any involvement or knowledge of taking EPO.

“There’s no way in the world, I would never tell any of my athletes to take (it). We didn’t even talk about taking supplements, let alone drugs.” he said.

‘What will mum say?’

For Peter Bol, one of the hardest moments was having to tell his family about the positive test.

“I mean, that was probably the toughest. I’m pretty close with all my family as you guys probably saw during the Tokyo games and I got on the phone, and I called my brother, and I told him just make sure you look after mom and look after the family and you guys be strong.”

Bol added, “And I got on the phone to my mum, and I said to her, “Look, you can’t cry before I cry. Let’s just stay strong and let’s just draw a strength from each other.”

His brother flew out the next day to be by Bol’s side.

Australian folklore

The Sudanese-born star gripped the nation during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 when he finished fourth in the 800m final after leading most of the race.

He blitzed the semi-final and then put in a Herculean effort in the final, just missing out on the bronze medal.

“I put myself in every chance,” an exhausted Bol told Channel 7 immediately after the run.

“The only thing I regret is the last 100 tightening up a little bit. Other than that, came here to win. That’s what I did. I tried to win.

“We came short but … there is more to come.”

Bol’s journey to Australian folklore has been well documented, having been born in Sudan, emigrated to Egypt as a child, before eventually gaining humanitarian status thorough the UNHCR and settling in Perth, Australia.

Guilty until proven innocent

Once Bol was told about the positive A sample, it was now a waiting game – waiting to see if the B sample matched the positive A sample, if it did that new life would be shattered.

During that time period Bol was banned from competition and excluded from training. Effectively he was in limbo – guilty until proven innocent.

“It wasn’t easy. And for the first week, I think I got down and did training as usual, and then I was like, wait a second, what are you actually training for? The reason I got into athletics is to be competitive and whatnot.” Bol said.

“When there’s no goal. So, when saying, you’re not going to world champs this year, you’re not going to nationals this year, maybe it’s not what I want to do at the moment.

“And that’s when I just picked up my basketball, picked up my bike, because I think physical activity is important for mental health and so I had to keep that up. It just didn’t have to be running. And I just stopped after a week and I said, ‘I’m not running, because I’m not running to be the best in the world anymore. I’m running to clear my name’.”

While everyone sweated on the B sample, Bol was assured the positive result would remain confidential between his small team, Athletics Australia and Sport Integrity Australia but a couple of weeks later someone leaked the result of the A sample prompting Athletics Australia to confirm it.

The bombshell news made headlines around the world forcing Bol to release a statement conveying with the strongest conviction that he was innocent and had not used a performance enhancing drug.

Chasing the edge

The story of drugs in sport is not a new one. And athletes asserting their innocence until they’re forced to confess is also not unique.

Think cyclist Lance Armstrong, boxer Shane Mosely, and sprinter Marion Jones.

And while it may seem unthinkable that Peter Bol would join their ranks, positive tests are a big negative for any athlete.

For Bol, an indication that he was on the radar started in 2022 when he had 26 tests – a mix of urine and blood tests.

“To put it in perspective, I think one week, I had four tests. In the space of 24 hours, I had three. I think it was at 6am, 10pm and that’s 6am the next day.”

Peter’s coach Justin Rinaldi says the rigorous testing was probably a result of a close test back in 2021.

“They were target-testing Peter because they believed that Peter was cheating, and they wanted to catch him.” Rinaldi said.

For Peter Bol, an indication that he was on the radar started in 2022 when he had 26 tests – a mix of urine and blood tests.  Credit: Instagram

There’s a reason why authorities are so concerned about EPO and why endurance athletes risk death to take it, it gives them a significant advantage over clean competitors.

“Athletes got onto it because they realised that if you can increase the number of red blood cells in your body, you can increase the amount of oxygen going around which is fantastic” said Dr Catherine Ordway, sport integrity research lead at the University of Canberra.

“Erythropoietin (EPO) is something that we all have in our bodies, and it’s produced by the kidneys primarily, but also through the bone marrow. And what it does is produce red blood cells in order to have oxygen flowing around in our bodies, which we all need.”

But it can also be synthetically reproduced.

Ordway says the difficulty for authorities, in cases like Bol’s, is determining whether their EPO levels have been delivered by nature or a needle.

Synthetic EPO created in labs closely resembles the real thing.

“It’s produced through the combination of two types of DNA. So, my understanding is that it’s used through both human DNA, so from cadavers, and also from animals. They’ve used pig DNA, but also most recently hamster DNA, Chinese baby hamsters have been used to create this synthetic EPO. So, it’s not really synthetic in the sense that it’s a kind of plastic or produced in the way that we might see other things in the community, but it is actually very close to genetically what we would see in our bodies.”

Ordway says tests would only be declared positive for synthetic EPO if officials were absolutely sure.

“My experience of working with lab directors is that they are quite conservative when they are calling an adverse analytical finding because it is such a serious threshold to reach because, of course, it’s an anti-doping rule violation, and all the next steps take place, which can potentially ruin an athlete’s life.”

But it remains that EPO is a subjective analysis by the lab directors. It’s not like a pregnancy test; you are or you’re not.

“EPO is something that we find in our bodies, then it’s difficult for the laboratory to determine whether it’s naturally occurring, when they’re looking at it under the microscope, or whether it’s something that has been introduced through a synthetic process,” Ordway said.

“Scientists tell me that there is nothing that’s black and white in science. And so that was a frustration for me when I worked as a prosecutor doing anti-doping cases in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics, where they’d say, “Well, we’re 99 per cent sure … there are multiple grey areas in this whole process.”

One of these grey areas lies within our DNA.

In our genes

Some scientists believe – and some data suggests – that ethnicity can influence an athlete’s results. Where you are born, and your genetic makeup may result in elevated readings that are entirely natural.

Could this be the case for Bol, who is of Sudanese descent?

“Well, I just don’t know. And that’s what I’m hoping that we’ll see through this further investigation. It’s not impossible,” Ordway said.

“That’s absolutely the point of elite athletes is that they are a bit unusual, and in the best possible way. And so, genetically, we’ve seen athletes have wingspans that are wider than their height. We’ve seen athletes with enormous feet. We’ve seen them being double-jointed in every joint. We’ve seen all kinds of variations in the human population. And that’s what’s wonderful about elite sport is that it brings it all out. And so, from a DNA perspective, it’s not impossible that the normal range for Peter Bol is different to our normal range.”

Bol believes his DNA could have played a part in his high level of EPO.

“It’s in our genetics, of course. We’re fitter, we’re faster, we’re more resilient because of how much we’ve been through and gone through. It’s our genetics, it’s who we are. We can get back in shape pretty fast, doesn’t mean we’re cheating. It’s how we’re born.”

A testing time

Peter Bol tested positive in a random out-of-competition test, and he says that timing as well as his gradual improvements over a number of years are proof, he’s not a drug cheat.

“I mean, listen, I tested positive for EPO in October during my off season. What performances am I trying to chase? A park run in Perth? Come on.

“It’s just ridiculous. It has to add up. It has to add up. Your performances over the years would have massive spikes. Things have to add up. You have to put things into pros and cons and make them add up, and not much that adds up or makes sense… I mean, it took me about four years to run a PB.”

But, while not specifically referring to Bol, Ordway says taking EPO in the off-season is quite common for those wanting to boost performance on race day.

“That’s what we’ve seen is that athletes would be using the EPO so that they can enhance their training and be training at a much higher level and the benefits last for three months so that you wouldn’t need to be using it when you come to competition time.”

Aiming at Athletics Australia

Despite being hit with such serious allegations, Peter Bol remains remarkably calm and considered when sharing details of this recent chapter in his extraordinary life but he becomes frustrated when discussing Athletics Australia.

He says the organisation that’s supposed to help athletes have only offered minimal support during these dark days.

“I was disappointed in a few people that didn’t (reach out). There’s some people that did but we wanted the people that are in charge to give that support as well. Maybe they’re ringing a different number,” he said sarcastically.

“I wouldn’t even pick up right now,” he added.

Bol would also like to find out who leaked the results of his positive A sample.

“I mean this whole process shouldn’t have come out until the B sample. And if it didn’t, you would’ve saved so much pain.”

When asked about who he believes leaked the results Peter says, “I’m so uncomfortable accusing anyone because I am being accused of something that I’m not even going to go there.”

On the point of the leak this is the exchange between 7NEWS Spotlight correspondent Michael Usher and Peter Bol.

Michael Usher: Let me help you with it then and see if you agree with what I’ll say to you. Do you think the leak came from Athletics Australia because they were concerned about their reputation because you were in the running to become young Australian of the year?

Peter Bol: Well, let’s put it this way all right. It’s a process of elimination. So, if myself and my team knew the result, then there’s two other people that need the results. It’s going to be one of the three.

Michael Usher: So Athletic Australia and Sports Integrity-

Peter Bol: And I’m a hundred-

Michael Usher: … and you and your team?

Peter Bol: And I’m a hundred percent certain of my team did not leak anything.

Michael Usher: So somewhere between Athletics Australia and the Sports Integrity Australia group, a leak happened.

Peter Bol: A leak happened somewhere there.

Michael Usher: Of your private information to the positive A sample?

Peter Bol: At just a perfect time, just a few days before Young Australia of the Year awards, Australian Year awards …I mean, let’s get one thing straight, we were never guaranteed to win Young Australian of the Year but-

Michael Usher: You’re a strong contender.

Peter Bol: Strong contender …

Michael Usher: Did that leak rob you of that opportunity at the Australian of the Year Awards?

Peter Bol: Yeah, it certainly did.

Bol had been among the favourites to win the Young Australian of the Year on January 26.

‘In your corner’

Paul Greene is the sports lawyer you want in your corner, when it comes to dealing with a doping allegation – and he’s acting for Peter Bol.

“I think it was a colossal failure by the Sport Integrity Australia results management authority, and then also by the lab. Clearly based on the results as I see them, they got this wrong. There was never any EPO in his system that was synthetic. The B sample was not positive. It did not confirm the A. They have the burden to prove an anti-doping rule violation and they failed to do so. There is no evidence at this point of any wrongdoing by Peter,” Greene said.

Greene believes the EPO in Peter’s system is all naturally occurring.

“The fact that they won’t admit that and the fact that they continue to leave this open as a quote ‘investigation’ is really an embarrassment, quite frankly. I mean, I think they’re just embarrassing themselves at this point.”

Running free

On February 14, Peter Bol’s B sample, the one on which his future rested, came back as “atypical” –it’s not negative but means he is free to go back to training, free to compete again.

The first person Peter called was his mum.

“I FaceTimed them and I said, ‘Look, I can go back to the track’. And she said, ‘Praise be to God’. And she said, ‘You have no idea how many people have been praying for you’. And I told her, ‘I actually do. I kind of felt it’.”

For now, Peter’s focus is back on the track while his legal team seeks independent analysis of the results to try to work out how EPO showed up in his system.

What they find may make Peter Bol a test case for the world.

Full statements

Athletics Australia statement

Athletics Australia maintained the confidentiality of the A Sample result and the provisional suspension based on the direction of Sport Integrity Australia. At the same time, we were conscious that the provisional suspension would result in Peter being absent from training and his name being omitted from start lists for several high-profile events.

There was no way Athletics Australia was going to mislead our community about the A Sample or concoct a story to explain away Peter’s absence from training or competition. As soon as media broke the news on the afternoon of Friday 20 January, Athletics Australia issued a statement to confirm the report and ensure transparency and accurate reporting.

We would welcome any investigation into how information about the positive A Sample was leaked to media; however, it is SIA’s investigation to conduct.

Sport Integrity Australia statement

Sport Integrity Australia takes the issue of the unauthorised release of A sample results extremely seriously.

Sport Integrity Australia is bound by strict legislative provisions that restrict the unauthorised disclosure of such information.

At all times, Sport Integrity Australia has complied with the process outlined under the Australian National Anti-Doping Policy 2021 and its legislative framework.

Bol’s lawyer takes another shot at Sports Integrity Australia: ‘False reading’

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