If you’ve watched the 2018 Olympic Games at all, there’s a good chance you’ve picked up on some of the Russian drama. The country was initially banned from competing in the Games in PyeongChang after investigators found that the athletes had been part of a government-run doping scheme during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. In the end, the International Olympic Committee allowed 169 athletes to participate after they proved they were clean — but one of those Russian athletes just failed a doping test at the Olympics. Yikes.
The 169 Russian athletes permitted to compete are called “Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR),” as you may have noticed. They’re also wearing neutral colors and they marched under the Olympic flag at the Opening Ceremony, rather than the Russian flag.
Everything with the athletes seemed to be going well — until the morning of February 19th, when the IOC announced that Russian curler Alexander Krushelnitsky tested positive for the banned drug meldonium; Krushelnitsky just won bronze in the mixed doubles curling event alongside his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova. The Court of Arbitration for Sport analyzed the sample and confirmed that the anti-doping division had opened a case against him, but so far, no hearing date has been set.
Krushelnitsky has not said much besides his brief statement to the Russian newswire RIA, when he said, “I know nothing about all this.”
Meldonium has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency since January 2016. It’s used to treat heart disease and other chronic conditions in Russia and Eastern Europe, but it doesn’t seem like Krushelnitsky used it for any of those reasons. Meldonium is known to increase blood flow, something that can help increase endurance. The Wall Street Journal says that the amount found in the Russian athlete’s urine sample was much higher than the dosage that would normally be used for medical purposes, which is what makes it suspicious.
This drug is one that Russian athletes should be very aware of — 40 Russians have tested positive for it since it was banned, so using it would be a very bad idea.
The Russian team seems shocked by the announcement, and Russian curler Victoria Moiseeva told reporters that they think Krushelnitsky is innocent. Russian women’s curling coach Sergei Belanov said, “It’s stupid, but Alexander is not stupid, so I don’t believe it.”
Authorities are now looking into whether or not the urine sample was tampered with, but Krushelnitsky has already surrendered his accreditation and left the Olympic Village. According to The New York Times, the panel is also looking at the reaction from Russian officials. If they dispute the verdict or make any critical comments, one source says, “it would be practically impossible to restore the Russian team before the end of the Games.”
Krushelnitsky is not the first athlete at the Olympics to be accused of doping: Japanese short track speedskater Kei Saito was expelled before competing after testing positive for a drug.
The Russian team had been hoping that the IOC would allow them to march under the Russian flag at the Closing Ceremony. That’s looking like it’s won’t happen now. We’ll keep an eye on the situation for updates!