UK anti-doping: an athlete's testing reality
When I woke up on Thursday morning, groggy from the previous day's 10-hour stint of text commentary on the Roger Federer against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray-Felciano Lopez quarter-finals at Wimbledon, there was a strange man standing in my bedroom.
Even less predictably, I was rather pleased to see him.
Three weeks into my month on the UK anti-doping whereabouts system, and I still hadn't been tested. I'd specified where I would be for an hour a day, seven days a week, for three months in advance, as well as where I'd be training each day, but there had been no knock at the door, nor any UKAD car flagging me down on long bike rides into the Surrey Hills or north Essex countryside.
I'd had scares - remembering halfway to Mama Fordyce's for Sunday lunch that I'd have to change my specified location from my flat in Putney to her house, taking some strong prescription painkillers when beset with toothache in the middle of the night, without thinking to check that they might be on the banned list - but as the days went by it felt increasingly like a theoretical exercise in diary management rather than the front line in the fight against doping.
The strange man, however, was entirely real. Neither was he going away, even though I was lying in bed naked (it's been hot) and rather needed to put on some board-shorts before bowling about the house.
"I have to stay with you from now until your test is done," he explained, showing me his DCO (doping control officer) identification card with photo and number.
If I left his sight I could be taking a masking agent, preparing some clean urine - you can buy it online, should it take your fancy - or even jumping out of the bedroom window. If instead it meant that I would begin the day by treating him to an inadvertent catwalk display of the emperor's new clothes, so be it.
I was lucky he was there at all. Knackered from covering the tennis and getting up twice in the night to calm my three-month-old son, I had slept right through the sound of the doorbell. If my girlfriend hadn't heard it, or had chosen to ignore it and stay in bed rather than opening the door, the DCO would then have tried again every quarter of an hour.
Call my mobile? I had turned it off overnight for the first time in years, thoughts only of a lie-in, but the DCO could not have called it anyway. Testing cannot be done without warning if your phone alerts you first.
Had I failed to respond to the doorbell's nudges for duration of my specified hour, it would have been logged in the system as a missed test. Three of those in an 18-month period and I would be facing a two-year ban.
Lesson 1: install a loud doorbell.
Lesson 2: make sure you can hear it anywhere in the house.
Lesson 3: at all times keep a pair of shorts by the side of the bed.
These are the bottles, complete with their lids and seals, that need to be filled
The DCO leads me into the kitchen. As I glug down a pint of water (I will need to produce at least 90 millilitres of urine) we fill in the doping control form: name, nationality, team/discipline, date of birth, today's date and time and my own identification - in this case a passport, although a driver's licence would also do.
Into the bathroom. From the DCO's bag I am invited to select a clear plastic pot with a white top, plus a separate blue lid sealed in its own plastic wrapping. There are roughly 10 of each from which to choose. When I have made my random selection and put on a pair of rubber gloves, the DCO asks me to check the tamper-proof seal. Is there any way the pot could have been opened in advance? No.
Only I am allowed to touch the pot. Taking off the original lid, it is now time to fill it and take the test. The DCO must watch the entire process. If you think the performance anxiety might be a problem, imagine how it feels to be in the audience.
Off comes the wrapping around the new blue lid. On it goes to the pot. From the DCO's bag I select from one of five identical white polystyrene boxes, all sealed again with tamper-proof strips.
Inside are two glass bottles, one with a red "'A' Sample" label, the other with a blue "'B' Sample" label. While the DCO watches, I pour half the urine into one and half into the other, seal the ratchet lids and turn the two bottles upside down. My personal seal might have been broken, but these have not.
At all times it's been me doing the opening, pouring and sealing. While the DCO has supervised every inch of the process, it's my hands looking after my samples. It's my hands too that put the 'A' and 'B' samples back into their tight polystyrene case, fasten the lid and attach the barcode stickers that identify me to the system.
Does my privacy feel invaded? You'd think so. My girlfriend is banging on the bathroom door, desperate to use the toilet. I have had my genitals examined at short range by a man I have only just shaken hands with. It is early in the morning, and I would rather be asleep.
The UK anti-doping paperwork contains no personal information
In actual fact, it all seems rather relaxed. The DCO is polite, friendly and helpful; the process is easy to understand.
Back to the kitchen. On the same form we now fill in my coach's name, the number from the sealed box and my doctor's name. There is a declaration of medication where I must write everything, prescription or otherwise, that I have taken in the last seven days, a section asking if I have a valid TUE (a therapeutic use exemption - for example, if I have asthma and require a steroidal/broncho-dilator inhaler) and a box to tick if I have had a blood transfusion in the last six months.
Then, about 40 minutes after the doorbell first rang, the polystyrene box is placed into a thick plastic courier bag, sealed, addressed to the doping control lab and tucked under the DCO's arm.
He will take it home, call the courier firm and have it picked up. There is no mention of my name, nor any of my personal details, anywhere on the package. The only identification is that mission order number and barcode.
The test is complete. Was it painful? No. An inconvenience? Only a minor one. Would it become more of an inconvenience if it was happening twice a week, every week of the year? Quite possibly.
This is the price British elite sports people must pay, not only for the doping scandals of others in the past but so us supporters and spectators can believe in their performances in the future.
Is an equal price being paid by all other athletes across the world? Not always. But more of that next week.