Port of Tauranga Half Ironman champion Graham O'Grady has been stripped of his title because he ate the wrong type of bread.
O'Grady ate sandwiches and toast with poppy seeds on them, which metabolised into morphine and caused him to test positive for drugs after he won the flagship Tauranga event on January 8.
The New Zealand Sports Tribunal has conducted an investigation and cleared him of any wrongdoing - but he must still forfeit his title under strict sports drugs rules.
Routine urine testing after the race saw the Hamiltonian record morphine of 1.4ug/ml (1.4 parts per million) against a World Anti-Doping Authority threshold of 1.2ug/ml. There is an allowable tolerance of 0.1ug/ml, which meant O'Grady's sample was a mere 0.1 parts per million above the threshold.
Tribunal evidence revealed poppy seeds were a potential source of morphine once they metabolised in the body.
It led the tribunal to conclude that O'Grady was not at fault and accept the source of the morphine was likely to be gluten-free poppy seed bread consumed before the event.
O'Grady has effectively been suspended from competing throughout the investigation and now he has been cleared can return to the sport. But international rules mean he has had to hand over the title of New Zealand Long Course Champion to second place-getter Callum Millward.
Triathlon New Zealand said it was not a case of a drugs cheat, but an athlete falling foul of a strict process with a breach so minor it was clearly not performance-enhancing.
O'Grady today told the Bay of Plenty Times it was hard to lose his title, but he understood where the tribunal was coming from.
He said he had been through a pretty tough time since he heard the result of his random sample and his training had suffered.
The lesson for him and all athletes was never to eat poppy seed bread. "It shows how something like that can have such a profound effect."
O'Grady said he hoped the investigation would not have any long-term effects on his career, which will probably kick off again with Challenge Cairns on June 5.
He plans to try to regain his title at next year's half-ironman.