Meldonium tests reignite doping scandal
in Russian athletics
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[March 21, 2016]
By Jack Stubbs and Dmitriy Rogovitskiy
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Four Russian
track-and-field athletes have tested positive for the banned drug
meldonium, Russia's athletics chief said on Monday, a disclosure that
further undermines Moscow's efforts to overturn a doping ban in time for
the Rio Olympics.
At least 16 Russian sportsmen and women, including world tennis
star Maria Sharapova and speed skating Olympic gold-medalist Semion
Elistratov, have been caught using meldonium since it was banned by
the World Anti-Doping Agency on Jan. 1.
Despite warnings from sports officials that a number of other
Russian competitors could have taken the substance, Sports Minister
Vitaly Mutko told Reuters on March 11 that meldonium had nothing to
do with athletics in his country.
But Dmitry Shlyakhtin, head of the Russian Athletics Federation
(ARAF), said on Monday four athletes had now tested positive.
"We have information that four people gave positive tests for
meldonium. We will deal with this today," the Interfax news agency
quoted him as saying.
Shlyakhtin did not name the athletes and it was unclear whether
Russian sprinter Nadezhda Kotlyarova, who revealed on Sunday she had
taken meldonium, was included as one of the four.
The burgeoning scandal will complicate Russia's campaign to prove it
is compliant with anti-doping standards after being suspended from
international competition last year following revelations of
widespread cheating and corruption.
If it cannot get the suspension lifted, Russian athletes will miss
the Olympics starting in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5 - a humiliating
blow to a country that has long drawn pride and prestige from its
record as an athletics superpower.
Mutko said on Monday the cases of meldonium use in Russian athletics
should not be connected to his country's preparations for the
Olympics, and athletes would be tested at least three times before
leaving for Rio.
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"Everyone who is preparing for the games is being monitored. But the
issue of meldonium is a separate issue," TASS news agency quoted him
"The testing plans are completely clear. Our sportsmen have been
warned - they can be tested at any time. Their task is to prepare
for international competition."
Since former world tennis number one Sharapova admitted using
meldonium, at least 100 athletes from multiple countries have tested
positive for the drug, which is used to treat diabetes and low
magnesium and has been linked to increased sporting performance.
Meldonium is particularly popular in Russia and the former Soviet
Union, however, having been invented in Latvia and used to help
Soviet soldiers fight at high altitude in the 1980s.
Russia's R-Sport news agency reported that around 40 Russian
athletes from more than 10 different sports had tested positive for
meldonium in the first two months of 2016.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Writing by Jack Stubbs; Editing by
Andrew Osborn and Mark Trevelyan)
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