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Doping: Canadian pole vaulter tested positive for cocaine before Rio

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian world champion pole vaulter Shawn Barber was at the Rio Olympics despite earlier testing positive for cocaine but the decision to allow him to compete was the right one, Athletics Canada said on Thursday.

Canada's Shawn Barber in action during the men's pole vault final. Reuters / Phil Noble

The Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada’s ruling was released on Thursday and said Barber inadvertently ingested the banned substance during a sexual encounter the night before the Canadian Olympic trials in July with a woman he met online who had taken cocaine.

Barber, who set a Canadian record and won the national title the following day, had faced a possible two-year ban imposed by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) but was ruled no fault or negligence for an anti-doping rule violation by an independent arbitrator.

The International Association of Athletics Federations and World Anti-Doping Agency both reviewed the decision and turned down their right to appeal.

“Forensic toxicologists have looked at the case and understood ... that it was impossible to have taken this amount of cocaine intentionally,” Barber’s lawyer, Paul Greene, told a conference call.

“You have inadvertent ingestion of cocaine that is passed to an athlete by way of kissing which is exactly what happened.”

Considered one of Canada’s best bets for a gold medal in Rio Barber scraped through qualification before finishing a disappointing 10th.

Barber’s hearing was held on Aug. 5, the day of the Rio Olympics opening ceremony, with the decision issued on Aug. 11 but the 22-year-old pole vaulter insisted the distraction did not impact his performance.

“It was quite an ordeal going into the Olympics but everything worked out the way I think it was supposed to,” said Barber, who was stripped of his 2016 Canadian pole vault title and record due to the positive test.

Looking to relieve stress the night before the trials in Edmonton, Barber said he posted a Craigslist ad seeking a casual encounter with a woman who was “drug and disease free.”

Barber was eventually contacted by a woman and her then-boyfriend and arranged a meeting a hotel.

The woman admitted during the hearing that she had consumed cocaine and during their encounter kissed Barber several times. She did not inform him that she had taken the drug.

In its decision the SDRCC said the evidence showed Barber did not know or suspect, and could not have reasonably known or suspected, that he was at risk of ingesting a prohibited substance by kissing.

“The athlete wanted this case heard by an independent arbitrator and that happened,” said Paul Melia, president and chief executive of CCES.

“The arbitrator listened to all of the evidence and made the decision that the athlete had exercised the utmost caution and therefore was at no fault and the period of ineligibility was immediately lifted.”

Editing by Frank Pingue