Press releases 19th June 2020

Open water swimmer lied about blood transfusion

Guillermo Bertola is to be stripped of the Silver medal he won in the 10km open water swim at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games, after being sanctioned with a four year ban for lying about his receipt of a blood transfusion as he knew it was prohibited. The international swimming federation (FINA) flagged the Argentinean’s Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) for an abnormal profile, with an expert panel concluding that a blood sample given on 31 January 2018 indicated use of a prohibited substance or method.

Detail from the FINA Doping Panel ruling…

Bertola initially claimed that the abnormal reading was due to bouts of hard training at altitude, together with use of a snorkel and max which provided a hypoxic effect – i.e., deprived his body of oxygen. Bertola alleged that he was also using a hyperbaric chamber, which increases air pressure allowing the lungs to absorb more oxygen than under normal atmospheric conditions. He also alleged that he had received iron injections and was ‘feeling ill’ prior to the Coronda Santa Fe UltraMarathon event, where he won the 57km race and after which the problematic sample was collected.

The FINA Doping Panel was scathing about the evidence given by Bertola & his mother…

However an ABP expert Panel didn’t believe him, and Bertola was formally charged on 20 January 2020. On 10 February, he confessed that he had received a blood transfusion. It later transpired that this transfusion, which took place on 23 January 2018 was from his mother, as she had the same blood type as her son. 

More criticism of the evidence given by Bertola’s mother…

The Full Decision (PDF below) outlines Bertola and his mother’s contention that he had been training hard without taking his thyroid medication, and in late January became dehydrated and was suffering ‘from gastro-intestinal problems’. Whilst staying at his mother’s house, who was caring for him, he agreed to receive a blood transfusion from his mother after she called a doctor due to concern about his poor health. Bertola admitted that he knew this involved a prohibited method, which perhaps explains why he initially lied about what had happened.

Details as to why the FINA Doping Panel was sceptical about the evidence given by Bertola’s mother…

The Doping Panel was scathing about the evidence given by Bertola and his mother. It questioned why she could not remember details of the procedure, or the name of the doctor who had administered the treatment. It questioned why she would agree to such an extreme procedure as the first option in treating her son.

But it viewed this as irrelevant, because Bertola had admitted he had intentionally used a prohibited method, and therefore his ban couldn’t be reduced down from the standard four year sanction. Bertola will be free to compete again on 20 January 2024.

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