A Russian Olympic medallist has left the Pyeongchang Winter Games on suspicion of doping, a team official said on Monday, in a scandal that has shocked his teammates and 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.
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.
He later denied having referred to any individual by name. But Russian women’s curling coach Sergei Belanov replied to reporters’ questions about Krushelnitsky, dismissing the idea that a “young, clever man” would use drugs in a sport where they would produce “no benefits”.
“It’s stupid, but Alexander is not stupid, so I don’t believe it,” Belanov said.
Krushelnitsky won bronze with his wife Anastasia Bryzgalova in mixed-doubles curling in Pyeongchang. He has not responded to a request for comment.
Suspicions of a doping violation have rocked the Russian team, which have been trying to draw a line under years of drug-cheating scandals, and shocked the sport of curling, where steady hands and sharp eyes outweigh physical fitness.
“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.”