Elmir's ban a lesson for all
Bianca Elmir missed her chance to be part of women's boxing's introduction to the Olympics when she received a doping ban from tests taken in February. Photo: Vikky Wilkes
The manner in which Bianca Elmir had her Olympic Games dream shattered should act as a case study for any elite athlete.
One tiny pill is all it took for the Canberra boxer to test positive to two banned substances and be rubbed out of the qualification process for London.
Elmir has admitted to taking a diuretic before a long-haul flight from Ireland to Australia in February to help combat swollen ankles.
She arrived days later in Hobart and claimed the national flyweight championship, earning a place in Australia's team for the world titles in China.
As we now know, Elmir never made that flight to Qinhuangdao after being handed a provisional ban by Boxing Australia, one which this week was upheld by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA).
The pill the 30-year-old ingested contained furosemide and amiloride - both which are on the world anti-doping authority's prohibited substances list.
A diuretic elevates the level of the body's urination and can assist in rapid weight loss. But the main reason they are frowned upon in the sporting world is because they can be used as a masking agent for performance-enhancing substances.
A message posted on Elmir's Facebook page yesterday by her management said the ''lovely lady'' Elmir received the pill from had them as a prescription to stop her ankles from swelling.
All the drama would have been averted had Elmir taken a quick and easy online questionnaire on ASADA's website.
Providing she knew what substances were contained in the tablet, she would have been told in less than a minute that both furosemide and amiloride are prohibited.
However, clouding the situation is a message at the bottom of the screen.
''Athletes may at times need to use a prohibited medication to treat a legitimate medical condition,'' the message reads.
''A Therapeutic Use Exemption [TUE] is an exemption that allows an athlete to use, for therapeutic use only, an otherwise prohibited substance or method [of administering a substance] which may be present during competition.''
Elmir's camp would argue her ''legitimate medication condition'' related to the swelling in her ankles from the round-the-world flight, and the effect it would have had on her performances at the Australian titles.
She admits in hindsight she should have checked with ASADA first before taking the pill, but wasn't entirely sure of its contents.
There will be questions asked about why it took nearly three months from the drug test to Elmir being informed of her positive sample, leaving her no time to mount a case before the world titles.
Would that have changed the result? Probably not.
Ignorance can never be used as a reason to justify taking a substance which, intentional or not, could give one competitor an advantage over another. The last Australian athlete to test positive to furosemide was NSW bodybuilder Scott Matthews, who was given a two-year ban in 2009, while cricket legend Shane Warne was famously banned for a year after taking a diuretic given to him by his mum before the 2003 World Cup. The full length of Elmir's suspension won't be known until a full hearing of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Even if her appeal is successful, her chances of being the sole entrant in the 51kg division from Oceania are gone.
I remember speaking to Elmir in the moments after she outgunned Kelly McGrath 15-7 to secure the national title in Hobart in February.
The former ACT Greens staffer was buzzing after the most emotional victory of her career.
''Pyschologically I've never been more tested in my life,'' Elmir said at the time. ''The physical extremes I had to put my body through in the last two days were insane.''
Elmir took nine hours to produce a urine sample for ASADA after being unusually asked for provide one after her semi-final victory on the Saturday.
She then sat in scolding hot water for two and a half hours to lose the excess weight to get back under the 51kg limit, not getting to bed until 3am and having only a few hours' sleep before facing McGrath.
''It was very similar to a sauna but it's more intense because it's hotter, so it's more shocking … I went pyscho,'' Elmir said.
Elmir's dedication cannot be questioned. She quit her full-time position with the Greens two years ago to put all her energy into stepping into the ring in London, the first time women's boxing has been included.
She spent the second half of last year travelling around Europe, fighting across the continent to build up her experience and give herself the best possible chance of fulfilling her dream.
Sadly, for her and Australia, it won't be this year.