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USADA: O’Neill a key player in O’Bee doping case

  • By Neal Rogers
  • Published Oct. 6, 2010
  • Updated May. 1, 2012 at 2:00 PM EDT

Australian rider Nathan O’Neill was intimately involved in Kirk O’Bee’s purchase and use of doping products, according to a decision handed down by the American Arbitration Association on Wednesday.

In the decision that ordered the life-time suspension of O’Bee, the panel concluded that O’Neill had direct knowledge of O’Bee’s use of the synthetic performance-enhancing hormone rEPO dating back to 2005.

The Australian’s name was disclosed as one of five parties with whom O’Bee had corresponded between September and December 2005 to discuss the purchase and administration of performance-enhancing drugs, including synthetic EPO and Human Growth Hormone, and the degree to which it might be detectable by anti-doping agencies.

O’Neill and O’Bee were teammates on the Navigators Insurance team in 2005 and on the Health Net-Maxxis team during 2006 and 2007.

In a November 2005 email O’Bee informed O’Neill he could get “vit.e” — short for Vitamin E, a codename sometimes used to refer to EPO. In a December 2005 email O’Bee wrote O’Neill to inform him, “My vit.e arrived today at my friends (sic) place.”

The correspondence, from a personal email account O’Bee acknowledged was his, was used as non-analytical evidence in USADA charges that centered around his May 20, 2009, positive out-of-competition test for synthetic EPO.

In late 2008 O’Bee’s former girlfriend, Suzanne Johnson, turned over records of the incriminating emails to USADA from a jointly owned computer, providing evidence that he had purchased performance-enhancing drugs over the Internet and then corresponded about the use of those drugs.

According to the AAA panel decision, O’Bee’s romantic relationship with Johnson ended in December 2005, but resumed, for a short time, from February to September 2008 before ending badly, with Johnson obtaining a protection order prohibiting O’Bee from returning to their residence following the 2008 Tour of Missouri.

The emails, and other computer-based documents, were forensically retrieved from computer disks Johnson provided to USADA in late October or early November 2008. O’Bee denied having composed or sent the incriminating emails, suggesting that Johnson had fabricated or altered them.

Neither O’Neill nor Johnson testified at O’Bee’s hearing.

An eight-time Australian national time trial champion who won the 2005 Tour de Beauce, O’Neill was suspended from August 2007 to November 2008 for a positive test for the prescription appetite suppressant Phentermine.

The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, WADA and the UCI jointly appealed to the Court of Arbitration of Sport to increase O’Neill’s suspension period on the grounds that “the athlete had not demonstrated no significant fault or negligence.”

The suspension was extended to the maximum period of two years, ending August 2009. O’Neill returned to racing this year with the now-defunct OUCH-Bahati Foundation team; his top result was second-place at the Tour de Beauce stage 4 time trial before breaking his clavicle in a crash during the Tour of Utah prologue.

Former Navigators rider Marty Nothstein, a three-time world champion and 2000 Olympic sprint gold medalist, was also named as one of the five parties O’Bee with whom corresponded with about PED use, however no details about the correspondence were disclosed in the arbitration decision handed down by the AAA panel.

Calls and emails left with O’Neill, O’Bee and Nothstein were not immediately returned.

O’Bee, 33, was a member of Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team in 2000. He received a one-year sanction from USADA after a sample collected at the 2001 USPRO Championship in Philadelphia tested positive for testosterone, a prohibited anabolic agent.

The recent AAA decision found that O’Bee’s sample, collected in an out-of-competition doping control on May 20, 2009, was positive for synthetic EPO.

The AAA panel also found that documentary evidence obtained by USADA, including the emails reflecting the purchase or use of EPO and HGH and a February 2008 email illustrating the purchase of a microhematocrit centrifuge blood measuring device on eBay, established that O’Bee had committed a second doping violation by October 3, 2005, nearly four years prior to his second positive drug test.

As a result of the decision, O’Bee was disqualified from all competitive results achieved on and subsequent to October 3, 2005, including a 2007 national criterium title.

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Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers is editor in chief of Velo magazine and VeloNews.com. An interest in all things rock 'n' roll led him into music journalism while attending UC Santa Cruz, on the central coast of California. After several post-grad years spent waiting tables, surfing, and mountain biking, he moved to San Francisco, working as a bike messenger, and at a software startup. He moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 2001, taking an editorial internship at VeloNews. He never left. When not traveling the world covering races, he can be found riding his bike, skiing, or attending a concert.

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