ANIKÓ PIRCS 2021.05.22 08:33 Frissítve: 2021.05.22 08:33

István Péni: I've been saying for years that I can't take it anymore

István Péni, who was acquitted of the doping charges, claims that he had been subjected to harassment for years, but his poisoning has crossed all boundaries. The European champion sport shooter would retaliate in Tokyo.

 

István Péni claims that he has been subjected to harassment for years (Photo: Csaba Dömötör)

 

When did you face the positive doping result?
– On the morning of April 15, International Shooting Sport Federation notified me that my sample at the ISSF World Cup in India had tested positive and that furosemide had been found in my body, said István Péni in the exclusive interview with Nemzeti Sport. – When I heard it, I didn't even know how it's spelled — now I know everything about it. Since it works by causing a rapid heartbeat, it's not difficult to understand that in shooting, it's not an advantage, but in fact, a disadvantage.

– What was your first thought on how the drug got into your body?
– At first, I was blaming myself, trying to figure out what I could've done wrong. We checked to see if my father, who was at the competition with me, had any medications that might have come into contact with one of my supplements. Then, I realized that 20 days before the event, I started taking a new vitamin D capsule, and I thought maybe it was contaminated. However, I also had a doping test two weeks before the Indian competition, and it came out negative. In any case, we took the supplement for testing, and it was eventually detected – there were approximately 40 capsules in the container, and each piece had a substance that contains furosemide, and which was introduced through manipulation of the capsules. It has been raised that either I might've been poisoned, my sample was manipulated, or the doping lab made a mistake. The latter didn't stand much of a chance, but the only way I could reassure myself was that it's what happened, because I wasn't doping.

FUROSEMIDE: IMPAIRS PERFORMANCE, REDUCES CONCENTRATION

Furosemide is a drug registered in Hungary and widely used for diuretics. Diuretics are compounds that increase the amount of urine selected by increasing excretion and urination in the kidneys. In addition to increased urination, it also increases the excretion of sodium and most often chloride ions, resulting in antihypertensive and edema-lowering effects.

“Furosemide is classified in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)'s list of banned substances in group S5 containing diuretics and masking agents, which is a group of specified substances banned both outside and during competition. A group of specified substances is an artificial classification established by WADA. It means that, by default, the first doping offense should be sanctioned with a two-year ban instead of a four-year suspension applicable to unspecified substances,” said Dr. Ágnes Tiszeker, head of the Hungarian Anti-doping Group (MACS).

The specialist added to the question of Nemzeti Sport: athletes usually use diuretics for two reasons.

"It's used in weight-bound sports to achieve the desired weight class category by rapid weight loss. However, in this case, sudden water loss tends to cause a decrease in performance. Another reason for use is to enhance urine excretion, thereby reducing the concentration of other prohibited substances in the urine and accelerating the selection and excretion of other prohibited substances from the body. This isn't a performance-enhancing effect either, but diuretics rather act as a so-called masking agent," Dr. Ágnes Tiszeker explained. 

The head of MACS told us that shooting is not particularly doping-sensitive according to WADA's risk assessment. Doping is very rare in sport shooting as it's primarily a technical sport and, although it requires stamina, it can be obtained without doping.

"Diuretics certainly have no performance-enhancing effect due to the nature of the sport. Weight boundary isn't necessary, and the drug tends to impair performance by increasing urination. The athlete gets dehydrated, tired, and concentrates less," Dr. Tiszeker noted.

– You can feel the effect of diuretics. Did you experience anything unusual during the competition?
– Of course. I was really sick. After taking vitamin D on March 19 and 20, I had severe diarrhea for days. I had to go to the bathroom a lot while living on one slice of toast a day. I don't want to go into details, but it was horrible. I won three silver medals and set a world record with my heart beating at an unusual rate, my stomach was empty, and I kept running to the restroom. It's a good thing I stopped taking the vitamin since I couldn't eat because I was afraid it was going to hurt my stomach. I started taking the vitamin again on March 29 at home, and I noticed that the capsule had become oilier and more opal. I thought it had deteriorated because, in the hotel, I kept it in my bag that was in bright sunlight, next to the panorama window. I became suspicious when I was sick at home for four days again.

What did you hope for after receiving the notification of the international federation?
– On the day of the notification, I requested my suspension from the international federation. I wished that even if I didn't find out how the banned substance got into my body, we could get my suspension started as soon as possible. I was hoping to get my competition license back by the Olympics.

There's hardly any precedent for a similar, dreamlike ending.
– Indeed. The most likely was to be suspended for two or four years. Four years for an athlete is the end of their career, but for me, even the shorter ban would've meant that.

– A few years in sport shooting is not a long time. A lot of people play the sport for many decades, and you're very young.
– I'm young, but I don't think shooting is the only thing in my life. I have the opportunity to succeed in other areas, so I thought, if I'm suspended, I wouldn't want to live my life in an environment where it could happen to me.

How did the truth come to light?
– At first, I didn't want to believe I was poisoned because I didn't give much of a chance for it. I always pay attention to everything at the shooting range, and I immediately throw away the opened water bottles in the hotel room. We started investigating in several directions, but I was confident it could only happen in the hotel when I wasn't there. We contacted the Indian hotel and requested the footage. We were lucky that they kept the video footage from a month earlier. After my sample was positive at the start of the competition on March 19, I had to review a few days of footage only. I keep a log during my competitions, so I knew exactly where I was and what time, and we could easily find the suspicious moment. The footage shows my father and I exiting the room at 10.19am, and making sure our door is locked. Then, at 10.36am, someone appeared, entered our room, and stayed there for 45 minutes. I stress that I haven't given anyone permission to do this.

How did you handle the past month?
– Not well. First, the alleged doping violation shocked me, then what I saw on the hotel security camera footage. I woke up for days thinking I was just having a nightmare, but every time I looked at the notification, I realized that what had happened was very real. There was pressure on me knowing that it's not easy to get out of a situation like this well, even when I know I'm innocent and a victim who's been subjected to constant harassment for years. We shouldn't have gotten this far.

– What do you mean exactly?
– It started years ago. When I started shooting, and my talent soon showed, my coach, Edit Kissné Oroszi, told me to be prepared because I would be subjected to harassment. I was 12 when she said that. Ever since then, they've been trying to make me look bad out of jealousy because of my achievements. And it's affecting my life.

– Could you mention an example?
– At my teammate's home shooting range (he certainly refers to Péter Sidi and the shooting range in Komárom – the ed.), my eyes were pricked on the team photos that had been hanging there. Moreover, the attacks on me have become open since 2015 when I started shooting better results than my team members. From then on, I got a series of harassing text messages, e-mails, and verbal abuse at hotels, shooting ranges, and on the podium. My rival made it difficult for me to prepare for the Rio Olympics, and he hasn't stopped since. I knew there was no smooth way to the Tokyo Games either, but what happened is unacceptable and should be felt outrageous by all members of our community. What they did to me is a long way from the spirit of fair play, and I can't even look at the perpetrator as a sportsman anymore.

(Photo: Hédi Tumbász)

Why didn't you ask the sport's managers for help sooner?
– I've asked a thousand times. I've been saying for years that I can't take it anymore. I kept getting promises that the current case would have consequences, but nothing ever happened. I kept getting the good advice that I was the smart one, and I should avoid my opponent. To preserve the sport's reputation, I've never defended myself in public, I haven't revealed to the public what is happening behind the scenes, that I'm swimming against the current, and that I win medals with a heavy backpack on my shoulder. After a while, I got used to this situation, maybe even too much. That's why I couldn't see, what my teammates warned me about, that things had escalated, and I should take care of myself.

– How could you keep what happened a secret for so long?
– It's a miracle that in this world, in which gossip spreads faster than light, it hasn't got leaked. On the one hand, it shows the gravity of what happened, and on the other hand, the character of the people who knew about it and kept it a secret.

– Who helped you in this fight?
– I received spiritual support from my loved ones, my parents, and my girlfriend. My girlfriend also didn't have an easy time, she couldn't tell her coach about what was weighing her down. In addition, as a participant in Tokyo, she wouldn't have been happy with my doping case that could've had questioned her achievements. The management of my club, UTE, stood by me with all their support and undeniably believed that manipulation had occurred. Thanks to the club, I've found the most suitable professional in the country in the person of Péter Kárai, who represented my cause. I'm also grateful to the Hungarian Olympic Committee, whose leaders have stood by me from the very first moment having been able to prove to them the fact of sabotage, and have given me every opportunity to do the same to the international federation, WADA, and the International Olympic Committee as well. While everyone should learn the lessons from this case, I also thank our sports federation because they ultimately allowed me to step away from a shot aimed at me. President György Nagy is my role model. He's acted as an impartial sports leader to the end and has always tried to put the interests of the sport first. Finally, I'd like to thank all the people whom I wouldn't mention name by name, but they've played a huge role in proving my innocence.

You were acquitted in the first instance and will take a shot at the European Championships in Osijek on Monday. How much could you prepare for the tournament?
– I didn't prepare for the competition. I didn't even hold a rifle for four weeks; I went to the shooting range again last week. I don't have the same amount of work in my hands as I usually do before each competition, but I hope what I've put in them over the last few years will be enough. I also hope that I will come out of this story stronger just like of the difficulties of recent years. I've fought a lot of things, and I will fight this one, too. I won't let the case get in the way of my happiness. I'm trying to process it in a way to keep my mind clean.

What do you take away with you, as you put it, in your backpack?
– It's for sure that as long as I'm alive, I won't dare to consume a drink that's not opened up in front of me. I'll also be careful with the supplements. Obviously, it would've been better if something like this never happened, but since it happened, I got trained really well and it prepared me for life.

Beyond the verdict, what would give you satisfaction, reassessment?
– My case - similar to two American skaters, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan – is unusual. Not even sports professionals have seen that an athlete could prove his point in such a story. I'd like to give you the real punchline in Tokyo. Those who have stood by me deserve to continue my Olympic preparations with all my heart.

Translated by Vanda Orosz

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