STANFORD, Calif. – Madisyn Cox isn’t taking any chances with the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on the line.
She doesn’t ingest anything except “pure water and good food” after a tainted multivitamin caused her to miss a shot at this year’s world championships.
“I’m eating food that I don’t even like,” said Cox, who served a six-month suspension after testing positive for an illegal substance in the multivitamin. “I’m like, ‘Cod is going to give me some nice vitamin D, so I’m going to eat it. I hate it, but who cares?’”
The cod – and her training – must be working. Cox, who is having a stellar season, won the 200-meter breaststroke Thursday at the Phillips 66 National Championships, which is part of Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
“It means the world,” said Cox. “You never know how adversity and challenges are going to affect you. For me, I was able to grow from it, to learn from it, to kind of dig deeper within myself and be a stronger version of myself because of it.”
And what did she learn?
“Life’s not fair,” Cox said. “Things are thrown at you. For everyone, that’s going to be different. For me, it was the doping situation and I learned that I could do two things. I could either wallow in my sadness and be like, ‘Poor me,’ or I could just say, ‘You know what? This happened to me. I’m going to move on and I’m going to be stronger for it.’”
The bronze medalist in the 200-meter individual medley at the 2017 world championships, Cox is also favored in both IMs later this week.
The 24-year-old has had a rough 18 months since testing positive for trimetazidine in February 2018. Cox was initially slapped with a four-year suspension, which was reduced to two years because she did not knowingly ingest it. After an analysis determined the substance was in a multivitamin, the suspension was trimmed to six months.
Still, Cox missed the 2018 national championships, the first step in selection for the 2019 world championships team.
She followed the results from Gwangju, South Korea, online, while also reaching out to her friends.
“It’s hard going from being there and being with everyone to having to be at home and still keeping my mind focused on this because this was my main meet,” said Cox, who also won a gold medal in the 4x200-meter two years ago in Budapest, Hungary.
She made a statement at nationals by posting a time of 2 minutes, 23.84 seconds to win by almost 2 seconds and also take a big chunk off her personal best of 2:25.62. Abby Arens was second (2:25.80) and Jenna Strauch was third (2:26.05).
Cox’s winning time would have earned fifth place at worlds, where Lilly King was disqualified in the preliminaries for a non-simultaneous touch.
Her coach, Carol Capitani of the University of Texas, said “not being able to do it for a whole year” propelled Cox.
“Because she perseveres and she knew she had a lot more left in her and she felt she was robbed,” Capitani said. “Sometimes those circumstances can not bring out the best in people, but I think that gave her a little extra edge.”
When Cox first found out about the positive test, she kept training.
“The whole time I was like, ‘It’s not going to be real. I don’t know why I’m going to be punished for something I never did,’” Cox said. “The second I got that call and realized I wasn’t going to nationals, I did take some time off. I just needed to mentally get away.”
She went to the lake with her family and turned her phone off.
In September she finally got back in the water.
“It’s hard to add more drive into her with her personality,” Capitani said. “It’s what she wakes up for every day. She knows her time is limited. She knows she has a year left and she wants to make the most of it.”
Cox is applying to medical schools for fall 2020, which will probably be the end of her career.
If there is a silver lining to the doping experience, it’s that it didn’t happen in the Olympic year.
“If it’s going to happen one year,” Cox said, “I guess that is the year.”