Meldonium tests reignite doping scandal in Russian athletics

Mon Mar 21, 2016 10:28am EDT
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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 which could further damage 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-medallist 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 the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) said on Monday four athletes had tested positive at the Russian Winter Indoor Athletics Championships in February.

"We have information that four people gave positive tests for meldonium. We will deal with this today," the Interfax news agency quoted ARAF head Dmitry Shlyakhtin as saying.

One of the athletes named was Russian long-distance running champion Andrei Minzhulin. It was unclear whether sprinter Nadezhda Kotlyarova, who revealed on Sunday she had taken meldonium, was included among the four.

The 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.   Continued...

Sportsmen train at a local stadium in the southern city of Stavropol, Russia, in this November 10, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko/Files