Joanna Latham Supports Doping Control at 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang
Journeying more than 7,000 miles across all of North America and the Pacific Ocean is not for the faint of heart. Neither is spending hours in single-digit weather and whipping winds to first notify an athlete that they have to provide a sample, and then stay with them until the process is complete. But on February 27th, USADA Doping Control Officer (DCO) Joanna Latham left her family in North Carolina to do that and more, all to support clean competition at the 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Joanna’s dedication to clean sport is no short-lived interest either; she has been a USADA DCO for nearly 15 years, during which time she became a Regional Team Lead and worked doping control at the 2012 Olympics in London. Now she is putting her life and her own local business on hold to help protect clean athletes’ rights and the Olympic ideals in PyeongChang.
Here is more on the USADA DCO supporting doping control efforts at the 2018 Paralympic Games:
What motivates you to work in anti-doping?
I’ve never followed sports closely, and I never thought I would end up in doping control. But I believe in fairness, and I know what these athletes go through to be the best and to compete clean. Basically, I believe in clean sport and that’s what keeps me motivated.
What do you find most interesting about your work as a DCO?
The strange things that can happen…and the unique part I play in the athletes’ journeys.
Over the years I’ve had police called on me, and I’ve had people answer the door with guns. But I’ve also seen athletes grow up, and I’ve been a part of their biggest milestones. Back when I first started as a DCO, for example, I remember going to test a minor athlete at 6 a.m., which is standard protocol, but his mom called the police because it was just her and the kids at home. We completely understood, but she felt terrible when the police came and she realized who we were.
A couple years later, I went back to test the same athlete and his sisters started telling me about the time their mom called the cops on a DCO…which they quickly realized was me! I’ve now been testing that athlete for more than eight years and have quite literally seen him grow up.
I’ve also tested another elite athlete his entire track and field career, which means I was around to hold each of his kids when they were newborns…and now I’m seeing them start to run track themselves.
As DCOs, we not only help maintain the integrity of sport, but we also get to know these wonderful athletes and inspiring people as they chase their dreams. It’s incredible.
What are you most looking forward to while in PyeongChang?
I think I’m most excited to experience a different culture. I’m also excited to see what facilities are in place for doping control at the world’s biggest sporting event…hopefully it’s a step up from the porta potties and folding tables that we sometimes have to work with!
What does it mean to you to attend the Winter Games?
DCOs often work in a single region with the same people, so going to the Games means I get to meet athletes, volunteers, and other DCOs from countries all over the world. We are all there for the same reason, to see the greatest athletes on earth uphold the Olympic values, which is really special.