Olympic 100-meter hurdles champion Brianna Rollins has been suspended for one year for failing to properly file "whereabouts" information for drug testing, leading to three missed tests in 2016, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Thursday.
Rollins' suspension, backdated to Dec. 19, 2016, will not affect her Olympic gold medal, which led a historic U.S. sweep of the event in Rio de Janeiro. But it will prevent her from competing at the world championships in London this August.
In the written ruling, the three-person arbitration panel that imposed the sanction called Rollins' case "difficult ... because it involves the imposition of a serious penalty on a brilliant athlete who is not charged or suspected of using banned substances of any kind. (Rollins) is justly admired.'' But the panel said it had no choice but to penalize Rollins with the minimum suspension for the offense under anti-doping regulations.
Rollins said she accepted full responsibility for her filing errors in a statement released by her lawyer, Howard Jacobs.
"I have always been and continue to be a supporter of USADA and their fight to keep our sport clean, and I will continue to do my part to prove that success can be achieved without taking any shortcuts,'' Rollins said in the statement. "This is a very unpleasant experience, but I am able to see where errors were made. Understanding this will prevent any similar issues in the future, I will accept the sanction and work to prepare myself for my return in 2018.
"I would also like to urge all my fellow track athletes to be aware of the importance in filing correct whereabouts notifications, and to fully understand the implications of what could happen if errors are made."
Rollins "does not intend to appeal'' to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Jacobs said in a text message to ESPN.com.
According to the arbitrators' ruling, Rollins conceded that she hadn't correctly updated her whereabouts information online in the second and third missed-test incidents, which took place two weeks apart last September when she traveled to her hometown of Miami for a "Brianna Rollins Day" celebration and to the White House with other Olympians for a reception.
Rollins did contest the first missed test window, which occurred in April 2016 when a USADA doping control officer came to her Los Angeles-area home at a time Rollins had indicated she would be there, in order to carry out a test at the request of the IAAF, track and field's world governing body.
Athletes are required to be available for one hour each day for testing under international anti-doping regulations. They file their whereabouts information quarterly, and can update it online if their plans change.
The 25-year-old former Clemson University star testified that she thought the system would automatically update her data to indicate she would be away from home after she entered notice that she would be competing in the Drake Relays in Iowa in late April.
The doping control officer, Lorena Martinez, spoke to Rollins by phone when she could not find her at home, and went to the airport in an effort to collect a sample. Rollins initially indicated she was getting off an airport shuttle, then said she had already gone through security.
Arbitrators noted that Rollins otherwise has a spotless testing record, including 16 completed, negative tests in 2016 -- half of those out of competition, and three in close proximity to the missed tests. The panel also critiqued the online filing system, saying: "We do note that the computer filing system and the agencies connected with it have failed to design it to assist the athletes as much as possible to avoid confusion.''
"Everyone could understand it was a mistake, and why the mistake happened," Jacobs told ESPN.com in a telephone interview. "I don't think there was anyone in that room who thought she had doped or tried to evade a test.''
Rollins' ascent to the 2016 Olympic podium capped a remarkable journey from the impoverished Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. She and her six brothers moved in with their grandparents, a postal worker and a lawn care service owner, after their father went to prison. Their mother supported them with a job as a prison guard. Rollins learned the craft of hurdling under veteran coach Carmen Jackson at Miami Northwestern High School and went on to become an NCAA champion at Clemson, a national champion and a 2013 world champion.
The arbitration ruling also implied that USA Track and Field and her sports agency could have done more to try to prevent Rollins from getting a third strike. Two of the missed tests were for samples requested by the IAAF and one by USADA. Rollins is in testing pools for both entities.
"USATF, the national governing body ("NGB") of which (Rollins) is a member, received a copy of each of the agencies' letters to (Rollins) charging her with first and second violations,'' the ruling stated. "It did nothing to inquire with its athlete as to the circumstances and to assure future compliance. The NGB left her on her own. (Rollins') own sports agency did not involve itself in her compliance activities or problems. Only after the third Incident, when it was too late, did they help her fashion her response.''
In another well-publicized whereabouts case, a British Cycling staff member was assigned to help star rider Lizzie Armitstead with her online filings after Armitstead logged two missed tests. She incurred a third missed test within 12 months after that staff member left the federation and was not replaced, triggering a suspension by UK Anti-Doping. UKAD's ruling was overturned by CAS on the eve of the Rio Games in an appeal funded by British Cycling.
In an email, USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer wrote that the federation's standard protocol to ensure athletes understand the potential consequences of whereabouts issues "is to forward communications directly to an athlete and/or call the athlete for each missed test or filing failure, and to follow up again after a second missed test and again after the third.
"In this case, we followed that protocol and also spoke to the athlete's representatives on numerous occasions, beginning with the second missed test. USATF was not a party to the arbitration and cannot speak to what may have been represented in the proceedings."
Rollins is represented by the London-based agency Stellar Athletics, which posted a statement on its website saying the company was "100 percent behind our client'' and added, "Although the 2017 season will now not happen, Brianna will be back for the 2018 athletic season ready to perform at the highest levels in sport.''
An email sent to the company's president and founder, John Regis, late Thursday was not answered.
Ramon Clay, the company's U.S. athlete liaison, attended the arbitration hearing as a witness for Rollins and told the panel he only learned of the series of missed tests after the fact. Clay, a former U.S. 200-meter specialist, was among athletes implicated in the BALCO scandal and accepted a retroactive two-year suspension and disqualification of results for steroid use after his retirement.