US prosecutors have charged a self-acclaimed kinesiologist and naturopathic doctor with supplying performance-enhancing drugs to athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.
It is US first prosecution under a federal law allowing criminal charges against doping conspirators at events involving US athletes, broadcasters and sponsors.
The US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said Eric Lira, 41, distributed drugs, including human growth hormone, “for the purpose of corrupting” the Tokyo games. Mr Lira obtained misbranded versions of prescription drugs used to boost production of red blood cells from Central and South America and distributed them to two athletes, prosecutors said.
One of the athletes believed to be discussed in the criminal complaint but not identified there by name is Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare.
AP reported that “the criminal complaint does not name Okagbare but includes details suggesting she was among Lira’s clients.” Details included a series of texts between Okagbare and Lira dated June 22, 2021. The Nigerian was said to have given the kinesiologist “great” feedback on a product after running a then world-record and wind-assisted 10.63 (+2.7) in Lagos the week before.
The statement read in part;
“On or about June 22, 2021, Athlete-1 wrote to LIRA, Hola amigo / Eric my body feel so good / I just ran 10.63 in the 100m on Friday / with a 2.7 wind / I am sooooo happy / Ericccccccc / Whatever you did, is working so well.”
It was also noted that the athlete who participated in the race in Lagos on June 17, 2021, was suspended a few hours before participating in the semi-finals of the women’s 100 metres race in Tokyo for testing positive for human growth hormone at an out-of-competition drug test “on or before July 19.”
The statement added;
“Notwithstanding the attempt to evade anti-doping tests, LIRA and Athlete-1 were discovered in their scheme. On or about July 19, 2021, Athlete-1 underwent an out-of-competition blood collection for purposes of drug testing by the Athletics Integrity Unit, a body charged with ensuring fair competition and prevention of doping at the Tokyo Olympics among other competitions.
“The results of that testing reflected Athlete-1’s use of human growth hormone. On or about July 30, 2021, Athlete-1 was provisionally suspended from Olympic competition, including in the women’s 100m semi-finals set to take place that same evening.”
Ms Okagbare had been provisionally suspended for testing positive for human growth hormone in July 2021 in an out-of-competition test, just hours before the former world championships silver medallist was due to run in the semifinals of the women’s 100 metres at the Olympics.
The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) last year said Ms Okagbare had also tested positive for a blood booster in Nigeria in June. She was charged with failing to cooperate with the investigation after she disobeyed an order to produce “documents, records and electronic storage devices” in relation to the other charges, the AIU said at the time.
Ms Okagbare had tweeted in 2021;
“When it’s time to say anything, I will and it will be worth the wait.”
Mr Lira was charged under the Rodchenkov Act, a law enacted at the end of 2020 and named for Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov. It lets prosecutors seek prison terms of up to 10 years and fines of up to $US1 million ($1.37 million) for offenders.
The charges against Mr Lira marked the first US criminal accusations of doping related to the Tokyo Games, which were scheduled for 2020 but delayed to the summer of 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.