Brinegar out of Olympic Trials, denies blood doping allegations

Michael Brinegar

Michael Brinegar’s hopes of competing in a second consecutive Olympic Games ended before he had a chance to attempt to qualify in the 1,500-meter freestyle.

On the eve of the 1,500 freestyle preliminaries at the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Brinegar was informed that the Court of Arbitration for Sports had ruled in favor of the USADA’s assertation that he was taking Erythropoietin (EPO), which resulted in his blood values being higher than his benchmark.

Despite having never previously tested positive for banned substances, Brinegar was accused of blood doping in August and September 2022. However, Brinegar had contracted COVID in June of that year and had to withdraw from the World Championships in Budapest and was not training or lightly training during the period in which he was accused of doping.

Earlier in the Trials, Brinegar had finished 17th in the prelims of the 400 freestyle and 12th in the prelims of the 800 freestyle. But his best chance to qualify for the Olympics was in the 1,500 freestyle, where he was seeded third. The top two make the Olympic team.

Brinegar is vehemently denying the allegations that he was doping. He released a statement early Saturday morning:

“As an Olympian and the son of an Olympic swimmer whose U.S. Women’s team faced an East German team that was systematically doping, cheating is a betrayal of everything I have been taught and stand for. I am deeply disappointed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS’s) ruling and USADA’s accusations that are utterly unfounded.

“Almost exactly one year ago, 24 hours before I was about to swim the 1500 on the first day of the international Team Trials in Indianapolis, I received an email from USADA. In the email, USADA claimed that test results from July, August and September 2022 were proof I was blood doping. I could not believe what I was reading. If I contested the finding, I would be subject to a 4-year ban, or the ban would be reduced to two years if I did not contest the finding. In addition, if I turned in anyone else, my sentence could be reduced an additional year. I was devastated. But knowing that I had not cheated, I chose to fight.

“Despite always testing negative for any banned substances, USADA suggests I was blood doping during a period when I was not training and when I was recovering from COVID-19. I had been preparing to compete in my first 25K at the World Championships in Budapest at the end of June, but I withdrew from Worlds as a result of contracting COVID. Given that I was already missing the biggest meet of the year, it is absurd to suggest I would engage in blood doping afterward while taking my first extended break from training in years.

“I have never taken any banned substances and my commitment to competing on a fair and level playing field is unwavering. After an independent arbitrator initially ruled in my favor in late November 2023, I turned my attention towards fulfilling my dream again of representing my country at the Paris Olympics. In early January, I received notification that USADA was appealing the arbitrator’s decision in my favor and must prove my innocence once more. I tried to refocus and began training for the pool events and was looking forward to competing in the 1500 in my home state.

“Once again, approximately a year later, 24 hours before I was to swim the 1500 in prelims, I received an email yesterday stating that CAS found in favor of USADA. I am devastated that I cannot compete today due to CAS’s ruling based on flawed assumptions and a misinterpretation of the facts.

“I will continue to seek justice in this matter and thank everyone for their support and understanding during this challenging time.”

Brinegar became a second-generation Olympian when he competed in the 800 freestyle and 1,500 freestyle in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. His mother Jennifer swam in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

“This is incredibly shattering for me since I have experienced firsthand when people cheat and rob those with integrity who have spent countless hours, dedication, and commitment to compete at the highest level. I know my son, and robbing him of what he has done his entire life and what he loves — swimming — is truly devastating,” Jennifer said.