Among the victims of tainted dietary supplements are athletes whose careers were derailed or interrupted after they tested positive for banned substances.
Swimmer Jessica Hardy, 25, who earned a gold medal and a bronze medal at the London Games, missed the 2008 Olympics after tests found clenbuterol, an asthma treatment that also is used to enhance sports performance.
Hardy said she unwittingly consumed the compound in a supplement, according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Arbitrators accepted evidence that her supplement was contaminated but suspended her for a year anyway.
Another American swimmer, Kicker Vencill, tested positive for small amounts of 19-norandrosterone a few months before he was to compete in the 2003 Pan-American Games. Laboratory testing pointed to a contaminated multivitamin.
Although the supplement company later contested the lab reports, a sports arbitration panel ruled that Vencill did not know he was taking a banned substance. It also found him responsible for everything going into his body regardless.
He was given a two-year suspension from competing and missed his chance to try out for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, effectively ending a competitive swimming career he began at age 5.
From his home in California, Vencill, now 34, said he watched this year's Olympic swimming events with some sadness over what might have been.
"It is hard to watch to a degree," he said. "There is a sense of sadness in my heart; that is something I have to live with the rest of my life. There is a cruel reminder that I missed out on one of the greatest opportunities of my life. There are greater joys in life. There are greater tragedies in life. But there is part of me that kind of, that died a little bit with that."
Vencill settled with the supplement company that sold the multivitamin. He is now a lifeguard paramedic on Venice Beach, Calif., and gives talks on behalf of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to athletes about what he calls "the cruel realities of the supplement industry."
"I am living proof of the horrors of it," he said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun