Gareth Swanepoel | Addressing Rumors

Gareth Swanepoel

The 2014 race season will long be known as the year drug testing and motocross finally coalesced. While random urine tests by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) had occurred for years in Monster Energy Supercross, their results had always come back clear, and then undiscussed. A failed test from the 2014 Seattle Supercross by James Stewart for an amphetamine brought that streak to a sudden end, and for the rest of the summer the vibe in the pit area of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship was on alert for USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) staffers. Only two tests occurred during the four month, twelve race series, with both blood and urine being pulled at the Colorado National. As many wondered what would happen with Stewart’s tests in Colorado, a separate rumor regarding another rider spread quickly through the industry around the Budds Creek National.

Just days before the event, we heard from a number of riders at a California test track that Cooper Webb had tested positive for a number of illicit substances and that the hammer was bound to drop on the Yamalube/Star Racing/Yamaha rider. Those close to the rider and situation denied any truth to the matter, but this was not enough to extinguish the gossip in Maryland. Talk of Webb’s test results and supposed use of growth hormones were discussed in such a matter of fact manner that it made the situation seem like common knowledge, and the rider and his team did nothing to address the issue. If we’d learned from anything in professional sports with drug testing issues, it’s that silence from the subject is often taken as an admission of guilt.

Just hours before the gate dropped for the 2014 Washougal National, the riders tested at the Colorado race were notified by USADA of their results. A nearly two month process was summed up in a quick email by Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart that cleared Webb and others of any wrong doing. Webb took to Instagram with the email and looked to put the rumors to rest (and also filled in many unfamiliar with the gossip).

We decided to ask Webb about the issue just prior to the the final round of the year at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, but the Yamalube/Star Racing/Yamaha rider was understandably hesitant to comment fully on the situation and simply told us, “I knew that I was clean.” Still hoping to find out more, we spoke with Webb’s trainer Gareth Swanepoel. The native South African competed all around the world before making it to America with the Star Racing team in 2010, had taken the young racer under his wing, and was willing to further dispel the drug testing talk.

It seemed like this year anyone would do anything they could to spark the drug testing talk, and your guy was one the people involved in a rumor. How did that come about and when did you first hear?

We don't actually really know how it came about to be honest. Cooper did a test just like all of the guys in Colorado, and pretty much around Budds Creek time people started asking us, "Is it true?" We didn't even know what they were talking about. It started with one person, then two people, and then it was all over the place. He handled it really well, wasn't fazed, and I wasn't fazed by it. We checked everything and knew all of the supplements that he had been taking, so there was no doubt in my mind. It was one of those things that we looked at as a bit of a compliment, that people think him doing that good is that he is cheating. We have to be doing a good job then.

Gareth Swanepoel

Like many riders tested, Webb took to Instagram with the USADA letter from Travis Tygart, the Chief Executive Officer of the agency.

At Budds Creek, it was passed around the pit area almost as fact, but you never once jumped out and played the denial role before everything else came out. He had a very simple answer right before Washougal, with the USADA letter posted on Cooper's Instagram. How did that feel, for everyone to say that he was positive?

The thing is, I spoke to the AMA and asked them, "You guys assured us that if there is any kind of positive test, no one would hear it before us." In my mind, the fact that there were rumors out there proved there was no positive test, because if any rider happens to have a positive test, they will be notified before anyone else. We literally waited and knew that there would be a certain period that he'd be able to prove he was clean. That time came and we put it out there for everyone to see. That was stressful, but it was more the people around us that spoke on it. Hardly anyone came straight to me. A lot of journalists asked him, but hardly anybody came to us. We heard it via everyone else saying who they had heard it from. No one came to us and confronted us with,"This is what we've heard." No one manned up.

Gareth Swanepoel

In addition to working with Webb, Gareth Swanepoel trains a small group of other professional and amateur racers, including Dakota Tedder. 

Until now, when it's months after the fact…

Exactly. We just let it be, really.

Gareth Swanepoel

I think a lot of that, and I'm just as guilty, comes with it being a small industry and not wanting to offend anyone, piss them off, or burn a bridge. Does that hurt you guys, that it's such a small industry and it helped a rumor grow?

No, I don't think so. The thing is to me, he didn't test positive and I don't know how the rumor got started. But it is a rumor that got out of hand apparently, but we didn't even realize how out of hand it had gotten. We didn't realize it until after the fact that everyone had been talking about it. I hope it doesn't affect him. He is a hard worker, I'm a hard worker. The other big thing is that I've been a professional rider for fourteen years, I've been tested myself and never tested positive for anything. It's never something that we've brought up, something that we've liked to talk about.

Although the season is over, we are still awaiting test results from the 2014 Unadilla National. A rough day and second moto DNF kept Webb off of the podium, where only the top-three in both classes were summoned for urine samples. 

 For more on the USADA, their procedures, and banned substances, visit www.usada.org