Doping Control Officers (DCOs) are key U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) staff members and play a vital role in the anti-doping movement as a whole. These trained employees are the ones knocking on athlete doors and greeting athletes as they cross the finish line, in order to conduct and assist them with the sample collection process. DCOs have been part of USADA’s team since our founding in 2000, and we’d like to take a moment to highlight some of our staff who have been with us since inception. Their stories will show just how much the world of anti-doping has changed over the past 15 years.
Arnold Thomas has been with USADA since 2000. Before that, he was a DCO from 1996 – 2000 for the Drug Testing office of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Arnold has been a Lead DCO for USADA since 2007 and a Regional Team Lead (RTL) since 2011. Lead DCOs and RTL are part of the leadership structure USADA has in place in order to better utilize and support our DCO staff members. Arnold believes the introduction of RTLs has been very helpful. He says, “One of the RTL program’s biggest assets is that the DCOs can call the RTLs [with questions] instead of the office. This gives the Athlete Coordinators more time to concentrate on their job.”
Looking back, as well as describing his job now, Arnold says, “There is really no typical day. They all start out as typical but can change in a hurry due to Athlete COPs (updates), notifying an athlete and having to change locations, etc.” Arnold may collect samples from more than one athlete on any given day and creates his strategic testing plans using a variety of information, including the athlete’s whereabouts information.
Arnold has seen quite a few changes over the years, including: the implementation of a Paperless system for the sample collection process, the transition from athletes mailing in location and change forms to submitting that information entirely electronically, the growth of the Registered Testing Pool, and the advent of collecting Blood samples.
Over the course of 15+ years as a DCO, Arnold has collected quite a few unique experiences while attempting to contact and collect samples from athletes. He shares one such story:
Last year myself and one of my BCOs [Blood Collection Officer, trained phlebotomist] both got calls at 5:30 p.m. [notifying them of a sample collection that had been scheduled]. We were both on the plane at 8:30 p.m. headed to the Pacific Northwest, arriving after midnight. We then drove 3 hours arriving at our hotel at 3:30 a.m. We slept for 2 hours and then knocked on an athlete’s door at 6 a.m. for a Blood/Urine test. We were back on a plane at 1:30 p.m. arriving back in Houston at 7:30 p.m. It was 26 hours from the initial call to landing back in Houston with a successful attempt!
Travel is a given part of the job of any DCO. Outside of the travel required to test athletes, Arnold has also had the unique opportunity to travel to both the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler as well as the 2012 Olympic Games in London, representing USADA as part of Doping Control for both Games. While in Canada, Arnold tells us, “I was very fortunate to be asked by CCES [Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport] to be the Lead DCO for the Sliding Centre in Whistler where Bobsled/Luge/Skeleton competition was held.” Of London, Arnold says, “I was one of six USADA DCOs to be invited to assist UKAD [UK Anti-Doping] with drug testing at the 2012 London Olympics. There, I was assigned to the Modern Pentathlon /Equestrian competition which were held at Greenwich Park.”
Overall, Arnold loves every aspect of this job. “From accepting and planning assignments to meeting and educating our Olympic and Paralympic athletes along with our developmental athletes it has truly been and continues to be an unbelievably incredible experience.”