A US age-group triathlete banned for four years for doping is now competing in ultra marathons under her maiden name.
Holly Balogh, 46, a Kona qualifier and Ironman All World Athlete champion in 2014 and 2015, tested positive for exogenous testosterone after winning her age-group at Ironman Texas last summer.
The mum-of-two from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, trained under the highly reputable PurplePatch Coaching group, headed up by British coach Matt Dixon. It is believed a whistleblower in the group alerted the drug enforcement agency USADA.
However, despite the ban, Balogh is now entered under her maiden name Hancock for the Old Pueblo ultra, a 50-mile race taking place this weekend in Sonoita, Arizona. The race is not thought to be governed by World Anti-Doping Association rules, and the organiser has not yet replied to requests for comment.
The use of any exogenous anabolic androgenic steroid is prohibited under the World Anti-Doping Code and Balogh did not apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE).
“It is unfortunate that Ms. Balogh chose to disregard the education, advice and knowledge she had regarding anti-doping and instead competed in violation of the Ironman Anti-Doping Rules,” said Kate Mittelstadt, Director of the Ironman Anti-Doping Program in 2016. “We applaud the decisions of the athlete support personnel to step forward, first to report Ms. Balogh’s use with disregard to their advice, and also for the conviction to include anti-doping awareness in their coaching. They each recognised the importance of honouring their obligations under the anti-doping rules and cooperated with Ironman’s investigation.”
Balogh initially challenged the verdict, before later dropping her case. A source who did not want to be named said: “To cut a long story short, she’s a type-A person who became more obsessive through triathlon.
“She was a mid-level triathlete with a dream to go to Kona and a strong work ethic, but something changed around 2013. She injured herself through overtraining, but raced too soon and re-fractured her leg. She thinks there’s a pharmaceutical cure to her problem, when the problem is a mental one: she just can’t rest.
“It sounds like this new coaching group either saw something in her performance or she told them what she was doing. I suspect the latter because she was not terribly shy about this claiming it was for ‘medical reasons’.”
Balogh, a real estate manager who trained up to 25 hours a week, said finishing the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in 2014 was “the coolest experience of my life. That gets me a little emotional when I think about.”
Her failed samples from Texas comprised her only drug test of 2016. For comparison, Tim O’Donnell, a professional Ironman, was the most tested triathlete by USADA (15 times), with professionals responsible for the lionshare of tests.
“I'm afraid I'm not able to discuss any particular athlete or situation,” said her coach Dixon when we approached him for comment. “With this said, I will tell you that PurplePatch has a very clear policy on any use of PED, as well as what we would see as potential ‘abuse’ of TUE with the aim of gaining a performance advantage. We make it clear to each athlete, beginning with a set of commitments with our professional team, as well as information and education to all the amateurs who utilise our coaching services. We include ongoing education, including a specifically crafted packet to guide athletes with education of PED abuse, our expectations, as well as resources to help them navigate and enjoy the sport with good faith and ethics.
“In any situation in which we suspected an athlete of crossing the line, or receive insight that they have, we have shown that we will fully assist and cooperate with IRONMAN, WADA and USADA. This global PurplePatch policy applies to every athlete we help, and we find that establishing this policy ahead of time, and revisiting periodically, allows our primary focus to be channeled to our passion, namely, to help athletes improve and flourish.”
I asked Balogh via her new Twitter account whether she thought it was morally right to race in an ultra event while serving a doping suspension. I cited her tweet: ‘Interesting times right now, I will begin anew now, today, despite the insanity around me.’ Her response was to block me from following her or viewing her tweets.