On Sunday, when Clara Hughes revealed for the first time that she failed a doping control in 1994, one other name appeared in her story, that of Pierre Hutsebaut, national team director. He was the man who informed the future Olympian that she’d tested positive for the stimulant ephedrine. In the CBC report that broke the news, interviewer Adrienne Arsenault, not Hughes, tells how the positive test was handled: “[She] was advised to ‘just keep this to yourself. Don’t talk about this, ever.'”
While Arsenault is careful not to say who exactly advised Hughes to keep her failed doping control and subsequent three-month suspension a secret, Hutsebaut has fallen under suspicion as he is only other person named in the report. Some agencies, such as AFP, reported that it was Hutsebaut who told Hughes to keep things under wraps. (“M. Hutsebaut lui aurait alors demandé de n’en rien dire,” the AFP report states.) Hutsebaut has been involved with cycling in Canada since the ’70s. He was the road technical manager for the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. At the 2003 road world championships in Hamilton, he was in charge of everything connected to competition and logistics. Currently, he is the UCI’s North American adviser. He guided David Veilleux in the Cap-Rouge, Que. cyclist’s career. Jonas Carney, the performance director of Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies, has said that he’s relied on Hutsebaut to recommend riders who were strong, but also clean. That Hutsebaut would advise Hughes to keep her positive test result a secret doesn’t match with his character and reputation.
“I didn’t tell her not to tell anyone,” Hutsebaut said adamantly to Canadian Cycling Magazine.
He remembered getting the fax from the UCI. (“There was no Internet at the time,” he noted.) He also remembered Hughes’s reaction. “She was surprised and denied it, as you imagine,” he said. Later the suspension came, which he noted was a minor offence.
Today, when an athlete tests positive for a banned substance, there is a formalized process. In Canada, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) sends an announcement once it’s gone through its protocols. The organization also stays in contact with Cycling Canada, the governing body for the sport in this country.
“At that time, there was no formal process,” Hutsebaut said. “No CCES. No WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency]. I was a kind of postman. I followed the polices that were in place. There was no other policies at that time. As as staff person, you don’t make policy decisions. There wasn’t any other way to do it.” There wasn’t a protocol for reporting doping offences publicly. It simply wasn’t anyone’s job to do so. “The final decision was Clara’s,” Hutsebaut said. “She was over 18 and could have spoken about it then.”
Hutsebaut also pointed to the context that Christiane Ayotte—director of the doping control laboratory INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier in Montreal—provide La Presse. “I find that it’s not a big deal,” she said to the Quebec publication of Hughes’s positive test for ephedrine. The stimulant is an ingredient in some cold medications. It also occurs in some natural products, which were not well labelled by the Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration at the time. “People should not equate ephedrine with EPO, anabolic steroids and blood doping,” Ayotte added. “It’s not the same thing at all.”
While Ayotte cautions against conflating various banned substances, Hughes did some conflating of her own in the CBC interview. “We were drilled enough from the CCES and from our federation that you can’t take anything. You can’t take anything that will help you get over a cold or a lung infection or pain medication. You can’t take that as an athlete,” she said. Hughes references the CCES, which Hutsebaut said, as did Cycling Canada in a statement, did not exist at the time.
When Hutsebaut was asked why Hughes would reveal her positive test and suspension after more than 20 years of silence, he declined to comment.
On Tuesday, two days after Hughes CBC interviewed aired, her memoir, Open Heart, Open Mind, hit bookshelves.