At the press conference held by the Canadian Cycling Association and Canadian Elite Woman star Genevieve Jeanson after the end of the elite women’s road race October 11 in Hamilton, CCA President Bill Kinash officially announced that Jeanson was tested for hematocrit levels that morning and that the results were higher than the 47% upper limit imposed by the UCI. Jeanson’s sole explanation for the possible reasons behind her elevated hematocrit was her use of a hypoxic altitude tent, something she has used since 1998.
Being a good scientist and not having any evidence to the contrary, I will accept her explanation at face value. Also, altitude tents are deemed legal at this time, so it’s pointless to debate whether their use is ethical or the 47% limit is too high or low.
What I cannot accept, however, is how absolutely stupid she and her entourage is to permit her to fail this hematocrit test. The CCA has nothing to do with this, because they’re not permitted to drug-test their athletes outside of UCI protocols. However, did she or her coach/manager Andre Aubut ever think in the six years she’s used these tents to test her hematocrit periodically to see what her baseline level is and also what levels it typically reaches after short- and long-term use of the altitude tent? The hematocrit test is about the simplest blood test you could ever hope to administer. You need a finger-prick sample of blood, a stash of cheap capillary tubes, and a micro-centrifuge that costs maybe $1,000 at most. That’s it!
This really isn’t rocket science or brain surgery. If you know the rules say that you must maintain your hematocrit at 47% or below and you’re using a tool that elevates your hematocrit, even my first year students will tell you that it might be a good idea to test yourself and calibrate your use of this tool so that you come close to the hematocrit limit but that, even in the absolute worse case scenario (natural or sickness-induced dehydration), you still keep yourself WELL below the limit to maintain a margin of error.
So no matter how this affair turns out, I have to state that, as things stand, Jeanson and her immediate team are dumber than a weight room’s worth of dumbbells. Maybe they need to hire an exercise scientist or anybody with an ounce of common sense!
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. He is normally a pretty mellow guy, but not when gross stupidity is rampant. He can be reached for advice or comments at email@example.com