"They watch the wee come out." What it's really like to be drug-tested as an athlete.



Libby Trickett was 15 when she had to take her first drug test.

The Australian swimmer, who would go on to become a four-time Olympic gold medallist, entered the bathroom with doping control officials, lifted her shirt to just under her chest, pulled her pants down to below her knees and then squatted over the toilet to pee in a cup while the officials watched closely. They had to see – with their own eyes – the urine come out of her and into the cup.

“It makes you feel pretty exposed, pretty vulnerable. It’s a fairly uncomfortable situation to deal with,” Trickett told Mamamia‘s daily news podcast, The Quicky.  

“But you do get used to it after a while and it’s just part and parcel of being an elite athlete.”

To hear more about Libby Trickett’s drug testing experiences, as well as why our treatment of Shayna Jack is so different to Australia’s foreign competition, listen to The Quicky. Post continues below. 

On Friday, Australian swimmer Shayna Jack will front Australia’s anti-doping authority to defend herself against a four year ban for returning a positive test for the banned substance Ligandrol – a muscle growth supplement that body builders have found to be as good as building muscle as anabolic steroids.

Jack withdrew from the World Aquatic Championships in South Korea citing personal reasons, but news of her positive drug test was made public last week during the competition, amidst fellow Australian swimmer Mack Horton’s podium protest against Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, who Horton has labelled a “drug cheat”.

Jack’s defence will rest on whether she can prove she unknowingly consumed Ligandrol.


But is it really possible for an elite athlete to accidentally take a banned substance?

What does it take to be an Australian sporting hero? Post continues after video. 

The list of banned substances is lengthy – and being added to all the time. However, athletes are told straight away when a new substance makes the list.

“There’s an email blast that comes from the drug association – in Australia it’s ASADA – to say that this particular item has been added to the prohibited substance list,” Trickett explained to The Quicky. 

“Sometimes you can take some substances out of competition but not in competition so it does get quite complicated and it can be quite confusing. That’s why you have your sport association to make sure you’re across all those items that potentially you might be currently on and you might have to go off or find an alternative medication.”

Trickett has undertaken hundreds of drug tests during her decorated swimming career but she never once feared she may have accidentally consumed something she shouldn’t have.

Libby Trickett
Four-time Olympic gold medallist Libby Trickett gives a behind-the-scenes look into what it's like being drug tested. Image: Getty.

"I really never felt that because I was always confident in the supplements and medications I was taking and that they were all above board," she said.

"When situations like Shayna Jack and Jessica Hardy in the US arise, you really want to take stock of what you are putting in your body and you do hope for the best. But for the most part [taking drug tests] is just part of our training process," she added.

"It's more uncomfortable having someone watch you wee to be honest. And you probably worry more about whether you're able to provide a full sample or not."

Drug testing for an elite athlete is intense. It can literally happen anytime and anywhere.

"You have to provide one hour in every single day of the year that ASADA or FINA can come and knock on your door and get you tested," Trickett explained to The Quicky. "Even on weekends and holidays you still have to provide an hour wherever you are in the world, whatever you're doing."


For Trickett, she estimates in any given year she was tested between 20 to 50 times.

"I remember a three week period where I would have been tested about six times. That was during training," she said, adding, "During a competition, I would have been tested almost daily. Especially if you win medals or make finals, you're pretty much guaranteed to get tested in those situations."

Getting drug tested is more than just providing the urine sample. When an athlete is tested, there's a whole stack of paper work you have to do too – there's accreditation that has to be checked to ensure your samples aren't contaminated or that they're not taken incorrectly.

"When you're young and first starting out, you need – or should have – a person present that can help you with those sorts of things," Trickett said.

"I remember the very first time I got drug tested I was 15 years old, so my mum obviously came with me and was there to help me with the forms and all of the information that they required. Because you need to nominate all the medication and supplements that you might be taking, that might be in your body, your system, at the time.

"It's definitely daunting. It's intimating and a fairly full-on process, especially when you are just getting used to it as a young athlete."

If Shayna Jack is to save her swimming career – and fulfil her dream of making it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – she has an uphill battle to prove that she ingested a banned substance unknowingly. Even then her maximum four year ban may only be reduced.

We can only wait to see what happens when Jack fronts the commission tomorrow to defend her positive drug tests.