It makes no difference whether Mark Dry was at the fishing hole or at his parents’ house on the day that all but pulverized what’s left of his Olympic dreams.
What does matter is that Dry wasn’t home that day, which is where he said he’d be. And that when authorities asked him where he really was, he told them he’d gone fishing when, in truth, he’d taken a trip to visit his folks.
Dry’s seemingly harmless fish story has mushroomed into a stranger-than-fiction whereabouts case that has the 32-year-old Scottish hammer thrower facing a four-year doping ban that could spell the end of his career.
Some view his case as a moralistic tale about truth telling — what happened to an athlete who told a lie when offering the plain facts would’ve done him no harm. Others see it as something more disquieting — a tale of inexplicable overreach by anti-doping authorities who chose to pursue the harshest of penalties for an infraction that could’ve just as easily resulted in a slap on the wrist.
“I don’t really quite understand what’s happening,” Dry says of the legal maneuverings and rulebook parsing that have become a regular part of his daily life. “It’s not a world I’m used to or particularly want to be a part of.”
The day that ruined Dry’s life: Oct. 15, 2018.
Like most elite athletes across the globe, Dry, a 2016 Olympian, had filled out a “whereabouts form” giving authorities the details of where he planned to be on any given day so they could show up for a no-advance-notice test. No-notice testing is considered one of the strongest deterrents to illicit drug use in the elite-sports world. Without it, authorities would largely be limited to testing athletes at major events, where the doping-control station is an expected detour between the finish line and the locker room.
But when the doping control officer knocked on Dry’s door, he wasn’t home. Given Dry’s status in the British anti-doping system — he was part of the country’s less-scrutinized “national testing pool” — his no-show that day would count as the first of three strikes that would have to accrue to elevate him into the “registered testing pool.” Three whereabouts failures while in the registered pool would equal a missed test, which could bring a ban of up to two years.
Whereabouts cases are nothing new in the anti-doping world. The most notable of recent vintage involved world-champion sprinter Christian Coleman of the U.S. Different interpretations of the rulebook led the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to drop its case against Coleman, who had been tested regularly and thoroughly and has never been suspected of doping.
Up until his missed test, Dry also had a spotless anti-doping record. He had even acted as a whistleblower in an instance years back when he saw doping control officers being paid off in a hallway at a major event. “I’m so anti-drugs, it’s unreal,” Dry said.
Still, something about Dry’s story didn’t add up to the UK Anti-Doping Agency. It didn’t help that Dry got his girlfriend to write a letter corroborating his fishing story — a move that made it look more like a conspiracy he insists it wasn’t. After further investigation, the agency came back to him and asked him where he’d really been that day. Dry came clean and said he actually had been at his parents’ house.
“When I received the email informing me of a missed test I panicked and said I was out fishing,” Dry explained. “I did not want to have a strike against my fully clean record and so opted for what I now know was completely the wrong decision.”
UKAD brought a tampering case against Dry — moving it out of the realm of a slap-on-the-wrist whereabouts failure and into one of an infraction with potential for a minimum four-year sanction.
The first panel to hear the case dismissed it, ruling that while “Mr. Dry’s conduct in telling an untruth to UKAD was undoubtedly foolish,” his infraction only would have resulted in no true penalty per the rules of the British “national testing pool,” which was an entity that did not, itself, fall under international regulations.
“The concept of fraudulently avoiding no consequences is indeed difficult to follow,” the panel wrote.
But UKAD appealed and won when a new panel offered a different interpretation of Article 2.5 of the world anti-doping code — the tampering rule being applied to Dry’s case.
UKAD has offered little explanation for its dogged pursuit of a case that seemed so trifling, especially when compared with others in the anti-doping world these days: to wit, a long-running Russian doping scandal and the ban of a famed track coach, Alberto Salazar, whose star athlete, four-time British Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah, has been investigated by UKAD but never found of wrongdoing.
“I know what I did was incorrect, and I’ll stand up and take the (expletive) I deserve for it,” Dry said. “But should they be able to bend the rules to get someone to keep their stats up, or cover up for some other cases?”
The UKAD’s CEO, Nicole Sapstead, did not return emails from The Associated Press seeking an explanation on why the agency went so hard after Dry. In a statement on the agency website, Sapstead said: “Deliberately providing false information to UKAD is a serious breach of the rules and undermines the anti-doping process which athletes and the public depend on to have confidence in clean sport.”
Every bit as head-scratching was Dry’s lie. In his interview with the AP, he explained that he was still on painkillers in the wake of a difficult hip surgery that had sidelined him for months.
“Just not in a great place,” Dry said in explaining his drug-altered frame of mind. “And I made a stupid decision that I obviously regret. But even though it was wrong, it wasn’t to evade anyone, or make money, gain an advantage or anything like that.”
These days, Dry is working light construction jobs, scratching out whatever he can in the coronavirus-stricken economy, in an attempt to keep the lights on and pay attorneys he hired to defend him.
Dry says his hip is strong and he was on the verge of throwing 76 meters, which would have put him in range of a spot in the Tokyo Games.
With the Olympics on hold and training facilities closed, he is lifting weights, “throwing heavy things” around in fields and trying to stay in shape. Not surprisingly, he is having trouble staying motivated.
The yearlong delay of the Olympics gives him time to have the case overturned on appeal, but in another strange twist, because he is only a “national level” athlete, the rulebook gives him no standing to challenge his own case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He would need the World Anti-Doping Agency or another sports body to step in.
But WADA told the AP that it concluded an independent appeal was not warranted. And no other entity has stepped up.
“When you strip it down to what actually happened, it’s terrifying,” Dry said. “I have so little power and they have so much power. They can do this to anyone, at any time. And that scares the (expletive) out of me.”