Alain Baxter is a professional skier, made infamous by a drug scandal in 2002. On 23rd February 2002, during the Olympic games in Salt Lake City, Baxter became the first British skier to win a medal in alpine skiing, earning a Bronze. However just days after this victory news emerged that Baxter had failed a urine drug test, with traces of methamphetamine (more commonly known as ‘speed’) being found in his system. Methamphetamines, aside from being illegalised by legislation, are strictly banned during sporting events such as the Olympics.
However the drug traces found were actually levomethamphethamine, the levorotatary isomer of methamphetamine. Isomers are essentially two compounds which share the same molecular formula but have different structures. This particular isomer is inactive and has no stimulant properties. However regardless of this, the use of methamphetamines is strictly banned and the two isomers are not distinguished from one another. Baxter was stripped of his Bronze medal and disqualified from the competition.
There are perfectly innocent explanations for the presence of this compound in the human body. For example, l(r)-methamphetamine is found in certain Vicks products, mentholated substances used as a decongestant. Baxter later confirmed that he had used a Vicks inhaler, unaware that the product contained this substance, unlike the UK equivalent which he regularly used and did not contain levomethamphetamine. He requested that his urine sample was subjected to high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with a chiral column, which could have determined which isomer had been found in his system. However this request was denied.
He later appealed and any ban placed on Baxter was overturned, however his medal was not returned to him.
Methamphetamine and its Isomers. Simon Cotton. [online] Available at: [http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/methamphetamine/methh.htm]