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Today, the Mail on Sunday pulls back the curtain on a top-secret London 2012 research project run by UK Sport.

This is a thread on how, over the past year, we slowly pieced together the facts of this story and how the governing body’s risk taking unfolded in Olympic year.

In November, in wake of Alberto Salazar’s 4-year doping ban, @draper_rob, our editor and I sat down at the MoS offices and decided alongside @sportingintel we would look into the practices of UK governing bodies.


Salazar was an UK Athletics consultant.

We decided to pay particular attention to London 2012

British Cycling, who won 8 golds in 2012, and UKA have become embroiled in doping/ethical scandals since. GB finished ahead of Russia and its state-run doping system.

How deep did the medicalisation of British sport go?

UK Sport is a government body that grants British sports federations funding for each Olympic cycle.

Those who meet UKS’ medals targets are unlikely to have their funding cut for the next Olympics.

UKS played a pivotal role in Team GB’s success at London 2012.

We decided therefore to look through UKS’ accounts to see how money had been spent in the lead up to London 2012 - keeping an eye out for those related to performance enhancement.

Under transparency laws, UKS has to publish all payments over 25k.

2 payments stood out.

In Dec 11, UKS paid TDeltaS Ltd a total of £181k for “research and innovation” purposes

TdeltaS is an Oxford University spin-off company that develops ketone esters

When the body is starved, the body produces ketones as a source of energy as glucose reserves are low.

The idea is that ketones provide athletes with an alternative energy supply.

Since 12, rumours of ketone use by pro cycling teams have been rife. They are not banned but few athletes admit to taking them.

The Dutch anti-doping agency still advises against their use.

To establish what these payments were for, we submitted Freedom of Information requests for documents relating to these payments as well as other papers referred to in UKS Board meeting minutes relating to performance.

We discovered that ketones had been used by GB athletes

A UK Sport presentation by Scott Drawer, the UKS head of research and innovation who moved onto Team Sky in 2016, detailed how British rowers had been a part of a 2011 study led by UK Sport and TdeltaS.

The presentation mentioned that performance improvement had been observed in a 30-minute rowing effort involving elite British athletes. Most experienced a 1-2% performance advantage. One broke a world record.

An Oct 2011 UKS board report was however more significant.

The paper suggested that, as part of a study, UKS intended to supply British cyclists and athletics stars, amongst others, with ketones for use at London 2012.

UKS boasted of an exclusive agreement with TdeltaS and that only Team GB and the US Army had access
to Ketones.

Here one may ask “well ketones aren’t banned, what’s the problem?”

Well as we later found UKS couldn’t guarantee the substance was WADA code complaint and that the risk/reward ratio became increasingly questionable as we delved deeper.

UK Sport’s language in these documents started to speak for itself.

“If others are aware UKS is linked into the project, the risks will be around a perceived unfair competitive edge.”

At the time they cost £2000/litre.

UKS even had a PR strategy ready if existence of the project was to leak during London 2012. The focus would be diverted towards the “the fact that the UK is ahead of the curve compared to its competitors”.

Similar to the marginal gains mantra adopted by Team Sky.

In October 2011, UKS obtained confirmation from UK Anti-doping and WADA that ketones were not banned.

However, this confirmation did not constitute a formal waiver from UKAD/WADA, to use the drink for the study and “its use still remained regulated by the WADA code”.

STILL, the agency proceeded with the study.

A UKS Board report says that ketosis would also be “very difficult to prove or test with any post event samples as the fuel source is utilised during exercise”.

So, did the project go ahead?

Over months, we tried to validate what we thought happened by speaking to those within GB athletics. Some knew of a secret drink. In ‘12, knowledge of ketones was not widespread

A document made reference to a project participant consent form

After waiting for another round of FOIs, we obtained a version of this this bombshell waiver.

UKS stated, in writing, that they could not guarantee that the research project was “absolutely” compliant with the WADA code.

Another version stated that UKS was not responsible for any risks associated with the project.

The project could only be undertaken under the guise of research as ketones could not yet be sold commercially. An NDA swore athletes to near total secrecy.

The final piece of the jigsaw arrived when we obtained a Bath University student’s PhD thesis. We triangulated it with the 2011 UKS project plan, more FOIs and found that UKS had run the trial without the knowledge of the ketone inventor/TDeltaS.

We were able to ascertain that 91 elite British athletes were a part of the study and that 135 doses of Ketones were used in-competition.

UK Athletics, British Cycling and Hockey all confirmed their athletes were involved.

The thesis also revealed the adverse health effects that arise from ketone use - 41% of athletes experienced Gastro intestinal symptoms.

In fact, 28, of the 91 dropped out of the study because of this. 24 more dropped out because the ketones weren’t even effective.

Was it worth the risk for UKS to trial a substance on London 2012 Olympians in 2012 that would likely cause GI symptoms, that UKS could not guarantee was WADA code compliant and that has debatable performance enhancing effects?

For hundreds of thousands of pounds

This is the latest in a long line of scandals involving British sports governing bodies.

First UKA then British Cycling, recently gymnastics, canoeing and now the body that funds them all – UK Sport.

UKS recently undertook a review of UKA after the Alberto Salazar fallout

If you have any information about British sport that you think is worth investigating please reach out to me on or my colleagues @sportingintel @draper_rob

The article including UKS' , and more links below.


Comment piece. There's nothing wrong with the pursuit of sporting excellence. But a proliferation of sporting scandals does beg the question about how far you should go, and at what cost, financial or otherwise, for glory.…

Seems the link in this thread to the original article is no longer working so here it is again…
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