The doping case of Ágnes Kovács, Hungarian swimmer

Ágnes Kovács, age twenty-six, is a very talented breast stroker whose swimming career reached its peak between 1997 and 2000. During this period she was European champion seven times (50-100-200 m. breaststroke), twice she was world champion, and she won the gold at the Sydney Olympics (2000) in the two hundred meter. After the Olympics, she left Hungary to study in the United States. Apparently this decision didn’t meet with the unqualified approval of her Hungarian fans: why couldn’t she stay in Hungary and study at a Hungarian university? In any event, after a few years she returned to Hungary where she is currently studying economics at the Corvinus University in Budapest. Both her parents are economists, by the way. She seems to be following in their footsteps.

I don’t really follow sports (U.S. or Hungarian or anything else), and therefore I don’t know why, at her age, Kovács suddenly decided to try her luck at the Peking Olympics but this is what she is trying to do. As an active swimmer she has to report to the MACS (Magyar Antidopping Csoport = Hungarian Anti-doping Group), which is the Hungarian arm of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). The rules are very strict. The sportsman or sportswoman must report all his or her movements to the agency. "I will be at the pool at six o’clock in the morning but by such and such an hour I will have to go somewhere else." The agency must know her whereabouts at all times, and surprise visits can be made at any time for a urine test.

This is what happened to Ágnes Kovács on the morning of October 30th. She was training at the swimming pool when the doping inspectors arrived. Kovács was unable to produce the requisite 75 milliters worth of urine. She managed to produce only 25 milliters. Normally, in a case like that the inspectors make the person drink a liter or so of water, and two hours later there is ample urine for the test. However, Kovács announced that she simply could not wait because she had an appointment with Roger Moore (the British actor famed for his roles as the Saint and James Bond) who lately has been doing all sorts of good work on behalf of UNICEF. Kovács was supposed to represent UNICEF somewhere in Africa. According to her, it was such an important meeting that she simply couldn’t wait. She couldn’t phone Moore and tell him that she would be a bit late. In any case, she signed a piece of paper stating that she "refused to submit to the compulsory urine test." Kovács claims that she walked away because the inspectors misled her. Three days after the unsuccessful urine test Kovács traveled to Italy where there was an international meet on November 3 and 4. The first day she received a bronze in 50 meters, next a gold in 100 meters.

The news of her refusal to wait for a successful urine test on October 31 hit the papers on November 8. The following day she retook the test, and it was negative. The disciplinary committe of MÚSZ (Magyar Úszószövetség = Hungarian Swimming Association) was called together. The committee came to the conclusion that Kovács’s appointment with Moore was indeed of such importance that it couldn’t be postponed and therefore her refusal to wait and submit a new sample was justified. György Kolláth, the legal representative of MACS, argued vehemently that Kovács’s behavior was unacceptable, but his arguments didn’t sway the committee. She was found not guilty. This weekend she swam again, this time in a national meet where she won the 100 meter race.

Ágnes Kovács’s troubles are not over yet in spite of MÚSZ’s acquittal because there is the FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation). The MACS’s report will go to that body, and it will be FINA that decides whether Kovács goes to Peking or not. Some people in the know think that her chances are no better than 30% and that the punishment may be two solid years away from swimming.