Russian medalist leaves Games amid doping probe: official

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GANGNEUNG/PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – A Russian Olympic medalist has left the Pyeongchang Winter Games on suspicion of doping, a Russian sports official said on Monday, in a case that could jeopardize the nation’s efforts to draw a line under a years-long drug-cheating scandal.

Alexander Krushelnitsky, who competes in curling, one of the Games’ least physically taxing sports, is suspected of testing positive for meldonium, a banned substance that increases blood flow and improves exercise capacity in athletes.

He is awaiting the results of analysis of his B sample, expected later on Monday, before a violation can be confirmed, Russian Olympic delegation spokesman Konstantin Vybornov said.

Krushelnitsky won bronze with his wife in mixed-doubles curling at Pyeongchang. Suspicions of a doping violation have shocked the Russian team and also the sport of curling, where steady hands and sharp eyes outweigh physical fitness.

Vybornov described the situation as “simply nonsense”.

Russian curling federation president Dmitry Svishchev also expressed shock, saying Russian curlers had been tested on Jan. 22 before flying out to South Korea and the tests were negative.

“I have known these guys for many years. Only a crazy person takes banned substances before a competition, before the Olympics,” Svishchev said on Sunday night when the news first broke. “It’s a strange story. It raises a lot of questions.”

Feb 14, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; Anastasia Bryzgalova an Olympic Athlete from Russia and Aleksandr Krushelnitckii an Olympic Athlete from Russia celebrates winning bronze during the medals ceremony for Mixed Doubles Curling in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Medals Plaza. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Russia has been accused of running a state-backed, systematic doping program for years, an allegation Moscow denies. As a result, its athletes are competing at Pyeongchang as neutral “Olympic Athletes from Russia” (OAR).

The Russians had been hoping that a clean record at Pyeongchang would persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow them to march at the Games closing ceremony on Feb. 25 with the Russian flag and in national uniform.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Sunday it had taken note of the case without going into details.

It said that if the case were to be confirmed, it would be considered by its OAR Implementation panel, the body in charge of monitoring the OAR team’s behavior at the Games.

Krushelnitsky has not responded to a request for comment.

He and his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova, won bronze in a game against Norway, which would take that medal if a doping violation were to be confirmed.

“I hope it’s not true … for the sport of curling,” said Norwegian team skipper Thomas Ulsrud.

“If it’s true I feel really sad for the Norwegian team who worked really hard and ended up in fourth place and just left for Norway and they aren’t even here.”

Additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Mark Bendeich

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