Russian team in shock over Winter Olympics doping scandal

Alexander Krushelnitsky, above, who competes in curling, is suspected of testing positive for meldonium, a banned substance that increases blood flow and improves exercise capacity. (Reuters)
Updated 19 February 2018

Russian team in shock over Winter Olympics doping scandal

GANGNEUNG: Russian athletes and sports officials voiced disbelief on Monday that one of their Winter Games medalists was being investigated for suspected doping, a scandal that could imperil Russia’s efforts to regain full Olympic status.
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.
“It’s stupid, but Alexander is not stupid, so I don’t believe it,” Russian women’s curling coach Sergei Belanov said.
He echoed a general bewilderment among curling athletes who could not fathom why anyone would use drugs that aid endurance in a sport that is a kind of chess on ice, needing steady hands and concentration rather than physical fitness.
Krushelnitsky, who won bronze with his wife Anastasia Bryzgalova in mixed-doubles curling in Pyeongchang, has not responded to a request for comment.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport has launched a doping procedure against him, but no hearing date had been fixed yet.
Asked for an update on the case, Russian delegation spokesman Konstantin Vybornov told Reuters the athlete had surrendered his Games accreditation and left the Olympic village while awaiting the result of a second sample later on Monday.
The suspected doping violation has come at a delicate time for Russia which is trying to draw a line under years of drug-cheating scandals and is competing at Pyeongchang as neutral athletes, unable to use their own flag or national symbols.
“We were all shocked when we found out yesterday. Of course we very much hope it was some kind of mistake,” Russian curler Viktoria Moiseeva told reporters, adding that the team believed Krushelnitsky was innocent.
“With us it’s not faster, higher, stronger; it’s about being more accurate. I can’t imagine what kind of drugs you could use in curling ... so it’s very hard to believe.”
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).
Russia’s curling federation told Reuters on Monday it had launched an internal investigation of the doping case.
“The federation is now creating an emergency commission in which all information will be investigated and verified. We know that our athlete is not guilty,” federation president Dmitry Svishchev said.
He had earlier said that Russian curlers were tested on January 22 before arriving in South Korea and the tests were negative.
Moiseeva said it would be dreadful if the case hurt Russia’s chances of regaining its full Olympic status for future Games.
“It’s a catastrophe, if it’s not just one Olympics but others too — it will throw sport in our country into turmoil. It’s awful just to think about, to be honest.”
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 closing ceremony on Feb. 25 with the Russian flag and in national uniform.
The IOC said on Monday that any doping violation would be decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport and that a decision would come very quickly after analysis of a B sample.
If confirmed, the violation would be considered by the IOC’s OAR Implementation panel, the body in charge of monitoring the OAR team’s behavior at the Games.
“I hope it’s not true ... for the sport of curling,” said Norwegian team skipper Thomas Ulsrud, whose team would stand to pick up the bronze if the doping result is confirmed.
“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.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency banned meldonium with effect from January 2016, deeming it performance-enhancing because it enabled users to carry more oxygen to muscle tissue, something of benefit to endurance athletes in particular.
Former world tennis number one Maria Sharapova of Russia was barred from competition for 15 months after testing positive. In total, more than 170 athletes, including over 40 Russians, have tested positive for the drug since it was banned.


Man United beats Chelsea 2-0, throws open race for Champions League spots

Updated 18 February 2020

Man United beats Chelsea 2-0, throws open race for Champions League spots

  • Headers by Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire ensured the win

LONDON: Manchester United threw open the race for the final Champions League qualification spots in the Premier League by beating fourth-place Chelsea 2-0 thanks to headers by Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire on Monday.
With 12 games remaining, seven points separate Chelsea and 11th-place Burnley, with the team finishing fifth also set to earn a place in next season’s Champions League following UEFA’s decision to punish Man City for serious breaches of financial regulations by handing the English champions a two-year European ban.
Martial glanced in a header off a right-wing cross by Aaron Wan-Bissaka to give United the lead in the 45th minute at Stamford Bridge, before Maguire planted home a corner from January signing Bruno Fernandes in the 66th.
Maguire, United’s captain, was perhaps fortunate to still be on the field, with the match officials opting not to punish the England defender for appearing to kick out at Michy Batshuayi after tumbling off the playing surface in front of the dugouts.
“I know I caught him but I felt like he was going to fall on me and the natural reaction was to straighten my leg so that if he was to fall on me, to hold him up,” Maguire said. “It probably looks worse than it was.
“I did catch him ... but I knew at the time I had no intent to hurt him or kick him.”
Chelsea was on the wrong end of two other decisions by VAR, firstly disallowing a volleyed goal by Kurt Zouma in the 56th because of a push by Cesar Azpilicueta on United left back Brandon Williams. Azpilicueta seemed to have been pushed a split-second earlier by Fred.
Then, with 13 minutes to go, substitute Olivier Giroud had a goal ruled out by VAR for a tight offside, leaving Chelsea manager Frank Lampard looking thoroughly glum as he sat in his technical area.
Chelsea has long been in fourth place, but has only won three of its last 11 games in the league to give a slew of rivals clubs hope of catching up.
One of them is United, which climbed to seventh place with this win — three points behind Chelsea and two adrift of fifth-place Tottenham.
“This season, we have been far too inconsistent,” Maguire said. “We have won at Manchester City, beat Chelsea at home, got a point against Liverpool, but we have let ourselves down against the teams where the pressure is on to break them down.”
Injury problems are starting to bite at Chelsea, too. Top scorer Tammy Abraham and winger Callum Hudson-Odoi missed the game because of injury, while central midfielder N’Golo Kante lasted 11 minutes before hobbling off. Center back Andreas Christensen didn’t come out for the second half after sustaining a knock to the head late in the first period, just before Martial beat the Denmark defender to a header for the first goal.
Lampard’s main gripe, though, was his team’s failure to finish off chances once again. Batshuayi was the biggest culprit, spurning two great chances in the first half in his first start in the league this season.
“We are fourth because of some of the good stuff we’ve done and because of the nature of the league, everyone taking points off each other,” Lampard said. “But there’s a lot of work to do because you can see the problem — that’s putting the ball in the back of the net.
“I feel like a broken record. We have to put things to bed by scoring goals.”
Chelsea hosts Tottenham on Saturday and would finally get overtaken with another loss.
“The season starts here,” Lampard said.
Nigeria striker Odion Ighalo, who signed for United on deadline day in the January transfer window, came on in second-half stoppage time for his debut and had a late chance saved by Willy Caballero, who again started in goal ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Two players struck the post from free kicks in the second half, Fernandes for United and Mason Mount for Chelsea.