Canada’s equestrian show jumping team was officially dropped from the Tokyo Olympic Games on Tuesday over a positive drug test last summer by rider Nicole Walker, a decision the 26-year-old is now appealing to the sport’s Swiss arbitrator.
Ms. Walker tested positive for cocaine, a banned substance, after helping the four-member Canadian team to a fourth-place finish at last summer’s Pan American Games in Lima. The strong showing qualified the team for next summer’s Olympics.
Ms. Walker, the daughter of businesswoman Belinda Stronach and her former husband Don Walker, the chief executive officer of auto-parts maker Magna International Inc., said she has never used illicit drugs, a claim backed by her coaches and fellow team members. Ms. Walker said her positive test resulted from drinking coca tea, a legal beverage that is widely available in Peru, and appealed the decision to the Panam Sports Disciplinary Commission.
In a hearing on Dec. 4, Pan American Games officials accepted that Ms. Walker unknowingly ingested coca tea at breakfast on Aug. 7 and that caused the positive test result. Coca tea is made from the same leaves that produce cocaine, and Ms. Walker said she confused it with green tea, which comes in a similar package.
However, the Pan Am commission decided to disqualify Ms. Walker from the competition on the grounds that athletes are responsible for everything they ingest. Without Ms. Walker’s scores, the Canadian jumping team dropped from a fourth- to seventh-place finish in Lima. On Tuesday, the Fédération Équestre Internationale, the sport’s international regulatory body, announced the Canadian team no longer qualifies for the 2020 Olympics.
Ms. Walker plans to file an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, a quasi-judicial body that can overturn the Pan Am officials’ decision. In a press release on Tuesday, she said: “My priority right now is to continue to fight for the Canadian equestrian team. The team deserves to go to the Olympics.”
The three other athletes on Canada’s Pan Am jumping team lost their chance to ride at the Tokyo Olympics – Erynn Ballard from Ontario, Alberta-based Lisa Carlsen and Mario Deslauriers from Quebec. Ms. Carlsen and Mr. Deslauriers, both 54, competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and Mr. Deslauriers also rode in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Ms. Ballard, 38, has not competed at the Olympics. She also had a strong showing in Lima.
Over the years, Canadian equestrians have won five Olympic medals for jumping. The Tokyo Games could potentially be an emotional experience for the group, as three-time medalist Eric Lamaze is hoping to compete as an individual athlete after announcing this past summer that he is dealing with a brain tumour.
“There is no basis in fact or law to disqualify Canada from the 2020 Olympics,"Tim Danson, Ms. Walker’s lawyer, said on Tuesday in a press release. “Canada qualified for the Olympics fair and square even if the scores Nicole earned after she drank the coca tea are discounted. I am confident that Team Canada and Nicole will receive a fair hearing.”
Equestrian Canada, the Ottawa-based group responsible for the Canadian show jumping team, said in a press release that it “remains firmly committed to clean sport and to standing behind our athletes. We fully support Nicole’s decision to bring an appeal forward to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”
Inadvertently breaking doping rules has cost Canadian athletes in the past. Lamaze was unable to participate in the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics after testing positive for cocaine. And rower Silken Laumann and three teammates lost their Pan Am gold medals in 1995 after Ms. Laumann turned in a positive drug test after taking an over-the-counter cold medication.