Jessica Penne is the first UFC athlete to be caught out by USADA’s biological passport program. Iain Kidd explains.
Jessica Penne has the dubious honor of being the first UFC athlete we know about to be flagged for a potential anti-doping violation as a result of her athlete biological passport (ABP). Something in her passport caused USADA to retest a sample they previously declared clean, and this retesting found a prohibited substance.
What is an Athlete Biological Passport (ABP)?
USADA tracks a variety of biomarkers when they collect samples from athletes. These are primarily hematological (blood) biomarkers and steroidal biomarkers. This allows USADA to build a profile of an athlete’s “normal” levels of specific blood values and hormonal values. A lot of doping involves increasing blood or steroid values because of the performance enhancing benefit increased levels can bring.
The ABP program allows USADA to notice values that are significantly different to an athlete’s normal values, and inform more specific testing of the relevant samples.
Why didn’t the initial testing catch it?
USADA doesn’t perform every single test on every single sample. It’s not practical (or, likely, affordable) to do so, especially when it comes to urinalysis. For instance, growth hormone releasing factors and erythropoiesis stimulating agents aren’t tested for in standard urine tests, nor is IRMS testing always performed as standard, per USADA communications manager, Ryan Madden.
When an odd value is flagged in the ABP, USADA are able to go back and retest samples with tests not performed at the time, or newer tests not previously available, to try to find any evidence of PED use causing the change.
As always, USADA are unlikely to release specific details on the “potential anti-doping violation” until Penne has had the opportunity to contest and appeal the results, unless Penne herself chooses to discuss the details publicly. USADA are also working with the Tennessee Athletic Commission, who oversaw a fight Penne participated in while her sample was being reanalyzed.