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
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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.


Brazil ace Fernandinho credits Dubai break with ‘extraordinary’ Manchester City victory

Fernandinho recieves words from his coach Pep Guardiola.
Updated 55 min 10 sec ago
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Brazil ace Fernandinho credits Dubai break with ‘extraordinary’ Manchester City victory

MANCHESTER: Fernandinho has revealed a Dubai break helped him recharge for a performance described by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola as “extraordinary.”
The Brazilian midfielder’s curling strike capped a superb display in the 5-0 win over Burnley on Saturday that helped keep the champions top of the Premier League.
But Fernandinho believes both he and his team can get even better under the new “special” one.
They face his former club Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Tuesday and the 33-year-old, who has not played for his country since their disappointing World Cup, says he feels fitter than ever.
“Yes, I don’t know (why),” he added. “When you are out of international duty you can forget just a little bit about football, spend more time with your family and clean your mind and your body. I think it helps a lot.
“I had a rest last week. I’ve been in Dubai for a week. I have had enough time to rest. I am happy because it’s good to be important especially in a (City) team like this with a lot of good and important players and we just need to go for it, to improve and get better all the time.
“It's good to hear something like this (being extraordinary) about you, especially when it comes from Pep. He's a special guy, a special manager and I'm so pleased for that especially after my performance.”
Fernandinho, who joined City from Shakhtar for £30 million ($38 million) in 2013, has been labelled a “key player” by Guardiola, who has had to start him more regularly after missing out on another defensive midfielder in Jorginho.
But the player does not think he is in the best form of his career.
“Not so far, not yet,” he said. “It was good (against Burnley), but I want to improve more, improve some details and get better to help the team.
“Maybe (this squad is stronger than last season). We have conceded less goals I think and that's a good point we have to take. And when we have the chance to play, especially at home, we create a lot of chances to score goals.
“I hope that we can improve more now because we cannot stop. We are just at the beginning of the season, just nine games, we have a long season ahead and I think from now until the end of the season we have to improve and get better and better. Otherwise, there's no point playing for City.”
Fernandinho is excited about a return to Shakhtar, a club where he won six league titles and the UEFA Cup during an eight-year spell.
City are a point behind Lyon in Group F, having lost to the French side at home, and need victory to stay ahead of the Ukrainian champions.
Fernandinho added: “The next two games against them is going to be decisive to see who goes through to the next stage. They are going to be key games for us.
“They have a good team, good players and we have to be careful and try to play the same way we are playing now. Of course it's a different competition, a different way to play from Burnley to Shakhtar. But we have to do what we have to do out on the pitch and try to win that game because it’s going to be very difficult.”