Equestrian Nicole Walker loses appeal of positive drug test at Pan Am Games

Nicole Walker competes during equestrian jumping individual at Army Equestrian School on Day 14 of Lima 2019 Pan American Games on Aug. 9, 2019 in Lima, Peru.

Raul Sifuentes/Getty Images

Equestrian Nicole Walker lost her appeal of a positive doping test at the 2019 Pan American Games, while winning personal vindication over an infraction that cost the Canadian show-jumping team an opportunity to compete at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics[1].

Ms. Walker helped Canada’s four-person squad qualify for the Olympics by placing fourth in the jumping event at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, only to be disqualified after testing positive for a banned substance, cocaine. Ms. Walker blamed the positive test on drinking coca tea, a legal and common pick-me-up in South America that contains trace amounts of cocaine. With Ms. Walker’s results eliminated, organizers dropped Canada’s team from the Tokyo Games, replacing it with a team from Argentina.

Ms. Walker appealed the Pan Am Games decision to Switzerland’s Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), with the support of the Canadian team and the sport’s domestic governing body, Equestrian Canada. In a decision released Tuesday, the court agreed that Ms. Walker’s positive test resulted from drinking a single cup of coca tea at the athletes’ hotel in Lima, but declined to overturn a Panam Sports Disciplinary Commission’s decision that disqualified Canada from this summer’s Olympics.

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“It’s very unfair that my teammates are barred from competing at the Olympic Games when the truth has been accepted,” said Ms. Walker, the daughter of businesswoman Belinda Stronach and her former husband, Don Walker, the recently retired chief executive of auto-parts maker Magna International Inc. “Team Canada competed fairly and has earned the right to be in Tokyo.”

Equestrian Canada said it was “extremely disappointed that despite the panel’s recognition of Nicole’s integrity and commitment to clean sport, her affected results at Lima 2019 were not reinstated, resulting in the Canadian show-jumping team remaining disqualified.”

A habitual green tea drinker, Ms. Walker ran out of bags she had brought from Canada in the final day of the Pan Am Games, and reached for coca tea in a green package on the breakfast buffet at the team’s hotel.

“I am very pleased that CAS accepted what I said as factually and scientifically correct,” Ms. Walker said. “While I appreciate the personal vindication, that is not as important to me as the team being able to compete.”

Equestrian Canada said that it was “pleased that CAS found that the Canadian show-jumping team was not warned about the prevalence of coca-based products in Peru and that neither the Canadian show-jumping team nor Nicole had any knowledge that coca meant cocaine.”

During Ms. Walker’s appeal, her legal team showed that if drinking coca tea had any impact on a show jumper, it would be negative. “This case has nothing to do with cheating or gaining any competitive advantage,” said Tim Danson, Ms. Walker’s lawyer. “On the contrary, the CAS panel found that if the coca tea had any effect on Nicole, it would have been detrimental to her athletic performance.”

Ms. Walker can appeal this decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal in Lausanne, Switzerland. Mr. Danson said that step is under consideration. However, he said: “The grounds to appeal are very narrow.” Equestrian Canada said it supports appealing the CAS decision to the tribunal.

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The three other athletes on Canada’s Pan Am jumping team who lost their chance to ride at the Tokyo Olympics are Erynn Ballard from Ontario, Alberta-based Lisa Carlsen and Mario Deslauriers from Quebec. Ms. Carlsen and Mr. Deslauriers competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and Mr. Deslauriers also rode in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Ms. Ballard has not competed at the Olympics. Over the years, Canadian equestrians have won five Olympic medals for jumping.


  1. ^ Tokyo Olympics (www.theglobeandmail.com)