Russian Curler Is Suspected Of Doping At Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

Aleksandr Krushelnitckii, who won a bronze medal in mixed doubles for the Olympic Athletes from Russia curling team, is under suspicion of doping, after reportedly failing a preliminary control test at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The result hasn't been confirmed; Russian news outlets are reporting that Krushelnitckii's "A" sample had tested positive for meldonium in a preliminary test, and that his "B" sample would be tested to confirm or refute the result. That test is being carried out around midday Monday in South Korea — Sunday night in the continental U.S.

International Olympic Committee Communications Director Mark Adams said on Monday that he cannot comment on a specific athlete or sport under suspicion, as "the testing and sanctioning is independent of the IOC."

Adams wasn't sure when the next test results would be released, saying, "I've heard that the B sample will be opened today, around lunchtime."

The testing is currently in the hands of the Doping-Free Sport Unit, which is part of the Global Association of International Sports Federations, an IOC-recognized group that's based in Switzerland. World Curling Federation President Kate Caithness is a member of the GAISF Council.

If the result is confirmed, it would then be up to the OAR Implementation Group to report its findings to the IOC's executive board at the end of the Winter Games — a little over one week from now.

The World Curling Federation says it learned of the preliminary test result through media reports; a spokesman said the governing body will not comment at this time.

The failed doping test was first reported by a Russian sports radio station; it was then confirmed to state-run Tass media by a spokesman from the Olympic Athletes from Russia delegation in South Korea.

Krushelnitckii won bronze in the new mixed-doubles tournament, along with his teammate and wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova. He's suspected of using meldonium, which the World Anti-Doping Agency has prohibited as a "hormone and metabolic modulator." It was formally put on the banned list in 2016, with WADA citing "evidence of clear abuse of the substance."

Elite athletes had used meldonium, a prescription heart drug, for years before it was finally banned. It's the drug for which Maria Sharapova tested positive, resulting in a lengthy ban from tennis.

Before it was banned, meldonium was seen as a "legal doping" substance — a prescription drug believed to boost performance but that for decades wasn't prohibited, as NPR's Jon Hamilton reported during the Sharapova case in 2016.

When asked if the incident might shake the confidence of other athletes in Pyeongchang, who had been reassured that all of their Russian rivals had been held to intense testing and standards, Adams said, "It's extremely disappointing for us, if a case is proven."

"On the other hand," Adams said, it would also show that the doping control system is effective and reliable.

There are reports that Krushelnitckii has turned in his accreditation and left the site of the Winter Games; Adams said on Monday that he had heard those reports but had not received confirmation.

Even if a drug is banned, athletes can be cleared to take it, if they can prove a need for therapeutic use (to do so, they apply for a "Therapeutic Use Exemption" — or TUE). There is no sign that Krushelnitckii had such an exemption.

In the case of meldonium, toxicologist Olivier Rabin, WADA's science director, told NPR in 2016 that when the drug was placed on a monitoring list, "it quickly came to our attention that there were clear patterns of use by entire teams, which usually suggests a drug isn't being taken for medical purposes. How could every member of a team need the same medical treatment?"

"Among athletes, meldonium is used with the purpose of increasing recovery rate or exercise performance" the British Journal of Sports Medicine wrote last year. "The benefit of taking meldonium in view of performance enhancement in athletes is quite speculative and is discussed without sound scientific evidence."

The IOC suspended the Russian Olympic Committee in December, over systematic doping. It then convened a panel to scrutinize Russian athletes who wanted to compete in South Korea; in the end, 168 Russians came to compete, under a neutral flag, in generic uniforms, and under the name Olympic Athlete from Russia.

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