Russian curling bronze medallist Alexander Krushelnitsky is likely to be stripped of his Olympic win this week after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium, according to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The body have formally charged him with doping and, according to Reuters, Krushelnitsky has left the Olympic village in South Korea.
The 25-year-old who won the medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics with his wife Anastasia Bryzgalova last week, entered the competition as part of Russia’s ‘neutral’ team of 168 athletes, unable to use their own flag or national symbols. A decision taken in the wake of the Sochi doping scandal.
Now questions are being raised about why someone entering under the shadow of a doping scandal, competing in one of the game’s least physically demanding sports (the Danish curling competitor Madeleine Dupont said on Monday, ‘what could you possibly need doping for?’) would risk being caught with meldonium.
What is meldonium?
Meldonium was first developed in the 1970s by Russian scientists Ivars Kalvins and used to treat patients with heart conditions.
One of the side effects of many cardiovascular diseases is restricted blood flow, and meldonium expands the arteries and increases blood flow around the body, which is why it is deemed to be performance and endurance enhancing.
In the 1980s it was was used to boost the stamina of Soviet soldiers fighting at high altitudes in Afghanistan.
The drug was placed on the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) watchlist in 2015 as increasing evidence pointed to its performance-enhancing benefits and widespread use in sports. It was banned for use by athletes on 1 January 2016.
Why is meldonium used for doping?
The drug is believed to help adjust the body’s use of energy and can boost stamina and endurance.
Meldonium’s history of controversy began in January 2016 (the same month it was banned) when tennis player and former world number one, Maria Sharapova, tested positive for the drug. Sharapova was later banned for 15 months. She said she hadn’t been aware the drug had been banned.
It is cheap and widely available over-the-counter in Russia and some eastern European countries, where it is marketed as Mildronate by the Latvian pharmaceutical firm Grindeks.
What are the side effects of meldonium?
In short, the evidence around the use of the drug long term is still hazy.
Some side effects are believed to be tachycardia (a faster-than-normal heart rate) and indigestion. The New York Times says: “Currently available data—admittedly limited, especially in English—don’t show any major patterns of serious adverse events with meldonium in sick patients.”