Newspaper article International New York Times

Meldonium Is Suspected as Russia Loses Athletes ; Epidemic of Withdrawals from Competitions Affects a Wide Range of Sports

Newspaper article International New York Times

Meldonium Is Suspected as Russia Loses Athletes ; Epidemic of Withdrawals from Competitions Affects a Wide Range of Sports

Article excerpt

In recent weeks withdrawals and substitutions from major competitions have wreaked havoc on Russian sports.

On the eve of their trip to the world championships in the United States this week, Russia's entire under-18 hockey team was suddenly replaced with younger players.

If that was not enough to startle sports fans, in recent weeks withdrawals and substitutions from major competitions have wreaked havoc on Russian sports, throwing into question the lineups for volleyball and even curling teams.

The suspected culprit is meldonium, the newly banned drug whose use in Russia recently led to the provisional suspension of the tennis champion Maria Sharapova and has forced dozens of other athletes around the world from competitions.

In Russia, officials have declined to explain the substitutions and absences beyond saying such changes were training decisions made by coaches.

But they have occurred amid growing suspicion and questions over meldonium: how long it stays in the body, whether it even enhances performance and whether pressure to avoid penalties from antidoping authorities is pushing athletes out of competition.

With few explanations given about why athletes have abandoned competitions, the focus has been on meldonium, a heart medicine that antidoping experts say has performance-enhancing qualities because it improves the flow of blood. The World Anti-Doping Authority added meldonium to its list of banned substances in January. Since then, 158 athletes, at least 30 of them Russian, have tested positive for the drug, according to Russia's sports ministry.

Some of the Russian athletes are among the country's top sports stars, including an Olympic gold medalist in short-track speedskating, Semion Elistratov, and the swimmer Yuliya Efimova, a four-time world champion. In recent days, four judo fighters and a top gymnast joined those with positive tests.

Russia has already been barred from international track and field because of systemic doping, although it is hoping to be reinstated in time for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.

With so many Russians found to have used meldonium, fears have spread that use of the drug might claim entire teams. …

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