Russia on Monday announced four doping failures for meldonium in athletics as the country battles to be reinstated in time for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
These are the first known cases of the banned drug in Russian athletics in a potential blow to efforts to overturn an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspension from international competition because of doping scandals.
The athletics federation did not name the four athletes who tested positive. It was unclear whether sprinter Nadezhda Kotlyarova, who admitted to taking the banned drug on Sunday, was among them.
An unnamed source told TASS news agency however that the four athletes are Kotlyarova, long-distance runners Andrei Minzhulin and Gulshat Fazletdinova, and steeplechaser Olga Vovk. All are said to have tested positive for the drug at the Russian indoor championships last month.
The federation said in a statement it was conducting a “thorough investigation” into the cases and reiterated it had repeatedly warned athletes and trainers that the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) was banning meldonium from January 1.
The drug is widely used for heart conditions and diabetes. But it also helps recovery from physical exertion so could help athletes. A number of high-profile Russian athletes, including tennis star Maria Sharapova, short-track speed skater Semyon Yelistratov and swimmer Yulia Yefimova, have tested positive for meldonium.
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said on Monday the meldonium scandal was not affecting Russian athletes’ preparations for the Rio Olympics which start August 5.
Russia was suspended by the IAAF for other doping failures said to be “state sponsored”. The IAAF will only decide in May whether Russian authorities have made enough efforts to return to international competition.
ATHLETES BEING MONITIRED
“All those who are training for the Olympics are being monitored,” Mutko told TASS. “The issue of meldonium is a separate issue.”
President Vladimir Putin last week blamed Russia’s sports officials for failing to warn athletes that meldonium was being banned by Wada.
Wadasays that more than 100 suspected positive tests have been recorded since January 1.
The agency moved meldonium from its “monitored” to “prohibited” list “because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.”
Meanwhile, Efimova has vowed to clear her name of the doping accusations.
“I categorically reject the doping accusation,” Efimova said in a home video posted on her official Facebook page. “We are currently preparing for a hearing of my case. We intend to have the accusations completely dismissed and prove that I didn’t violate anti-doping regulations.”
Efimova, who was suspended for 16 months and stripped of five European titles after testing positive for an anabolic steroid in 2013, could face a lifetime ban if found guilty of a second career doping code violation.
The 23-year-old swimmer, who won a bronze medal in the 200-metre breaststroke at the 2012 London Games, conceded she had taken meldonium for medical reasons before the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) ban on the drug came into effect on January 1.
She said experts were now analysing how traces of meldonium could have ended up in her samples months after she stopped taking the drug.
Efimova said she was training with the hope she could compete at this summer’s Rio Olympics, despite having been suspended by swimming’s world governing body FINA earlier this month.
Efimova claimed she had never been notified of meldonium’s addition to WADA’s list of prohibited substances.