CrossFit Games

Larissa Cunha Receives Minimum Sentence After Proving Banned Substance Was Contaminated

September 17, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Melk Z Deck (instagram.com/melkzdeck)
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On July 22, less than a week before the start of the 2021 CrossFit Games, Brazilian athlete Larissa Cunha opened her e-mail to find that CrossFit was revoking her Games invite. The e-mail stated she had tested positive for a banned substance, Ostarine, a SARM compound. Nearly two months later, CrossFit informed Cunha she would be suspended from competing until July 14, 2023, the minimum sentence we’ve seen HQ grant athletes.

One big thing: Even with the reduced sanction, this could still be career ending, as Cunha will be 33 the next time she can compete at the Games. Because the sanction lifts on July 14, 2023, it’s essentially a three season ban because she will be unable to do the 2023 CrossFit Open therefore unable to qualify for the 2023 Games. 

Why it matters: While it’s common to see a handful of athletes test positive for banned substances each year, what isn’t common, CrossFit HQ reducing the full sentence or “standard sanction,” from a four-year ban to a two-year ban from the sport.

  • One notable athlete who received a reduced sanction was Kelli Holm back in 2018. 
  • Similar to Cunha, she originally faced a four-year ban, but due to the appeals process, Holm was able to prove her supplement was contaminated.

So how did the sentence get reduced? For Cunha, it was a lot of “hurry up and wait” in trying to prove she was unknowingly taking the banned substance.

  • After receiving the initial e-mail from CrossFit informing her of the positive drug test, Cunha then asked to have her B sample tested, in hopes there was some kind of mix-up.
  • Just 24 hours before Individual Event 1 at the CrossFit Games as Cunha is sitting in limbo wondering if she will be able to compete or not, the result of her B sample came back also testing positive for Ostarine.
  • Cunha then filed an appeal which would allow her a few weeks to test the supplements by a third-party to try and prove they were unknowingly contaminated, a claim she has vocalized consistently since the beginning.

The process of testing supplements: While we can assume most Games athletes read the labels of all their products, for Cunha, Ostarine was not listed in any ingredient labels on her supplements. To crackdown on what is in them, Cunha brought them to an NSF lab for testing. This process, however, is not cheap.

  • As a way to save money, the lab advised Cunha to first test supplements that were from a compound in pharmacy, where products are combined or mixed with other ingredients, as those would most likely have been contaminated.
  • Cunha said, her supplements are made specifically for her through the recommendation of her doctor, however, she said, Ostarine was not on the label or recommended to be in her products.
  • A total of six supplements were tested, costing Cunha $3,400. This was only half of the total supplements she takes.
  • “All of this is not just money. This cost my career, my name, the situation that has past but also my future. I was in my best year and now I am 30 and I know I am not so young but I have so much to do and so much to give,” Cunha said.

The results: Two of the products came back positive for Ostarine — Beta-Alanine and UC-11, a collagen for joint health. Just as the deadline was approaching for Cunha’s opportunity to appeal, she sent over the results and patiently waited to hear her fate from CrossFit.

  • “I have not done anything wrong and therefore I would never give up until I proved my innocence. I knew it was a hard fight but I had to fight until the end. I fought with everything that I have to prove my innocence and I showed that on my appeal,” Cunha said.

CrossFit HQ’s response: While the presence of Ostarine constitutes a violation under the CrossFit Games Drug Testing Policy, according to CrossFit, since the substance was not listed on the label of the supplements, Cunha did not receive a full four-year sentence but instead, received a two-year sanction.

  • “It is CrossFit’s decision that you be suspended for two years as of July 14, 2021. You will not be eligible to compete in any competitions operated by CrossFit, LLC until July 14, 2023,” CrossFit wrote to Cunha.

Bridging the gap: Although Cunha was unable to compete at the Games, she stuck around to watch as a spectator and even met up with CrossFit CEO, Eric Roza to discuss banned substances in our sport. From speaking with Cunha myself, she was very optimistic about their conversation and finding solutions, rather than playing the blame game. Throughout the entire process, Cunha said CrossFit has been very helpful and she thanks them for guiding her each step of the way.

  • “I am very happy because I found the truth and I knew that this was the truth because I couldn’t imagine anything else. I always knew from the beginning in my heart that I haven’t done anything wrong like I said the first time we had a conversation (with Morning Chalk Up), like I said in my video on Instagram and I didn’t know what to say to my fans but I knew in my heart and in my mind and I would find the truth. The truth is always revealed,” said Cunha.

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