Russian biathletes risk missing Sochi Games

Russian athletes have been caught in another doping scandal after banned substances were found in several biathletes’ samples. They now face a lengthy disqualification if the initial test results are confirmed.

According to the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the athletes' names will not be disclosed while the preliminary investigation is still under way. Source: Imago/Legion Media

Timur Ganeev, for RBTH

The International Biathlon Union (IBU) released the latest results of testing for performance-enhancing drugs in which banned substances were found in samples from three athletes.

While the IBU did not disclose the names, Russian media has reported that the two Russian biathletes—world champion Ekaterina Yuryeva and European champion Irina Starykh—were involved in the scandal. The third athele is believed to be from Lithuanian. Yuryeva has not made it to the Russian national team at the Sochi Games, but Starykh, a 26-year-old from Kurgan, was one of the favorites to win the sprint and the mixed relay.

“If it is true that one of the athletes that have tested positive is Irina Starykh, then this is a great loss for the Russian women's team," Vladimir Drachev, a world champion and Olympic medalist, told RBTH. “Starykh was one of the favorites to win medals. She made it to the national team very recently, but she has already become one of the leaders. I first heard of her when she won the Universiade in Harbin, China. The Olympics would have been a good change for her to show what she's worth."

The samples that tested positive were taken during the December break. The IBU has already informed the International Olympic Committee, and the athletes involved have been suspended from all competitions. According to the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), their names will not be disclosed while the preliminary investigation is still under way.

“Coming right before the Olympics, this news will affect the Russian national team’s morale," said Aleksandr Tikhonov, a four times Olympic champion. “The important thing is not to panic. But why does our national team have such a poor record as far as doping is concerned? Maybe we should put this question to our coaches, including Nikolay Lopukhov, Valeriy Polkhovskiy, and Vladimir Korolkevich. How was this allowed to happen? Haven’t we been through all this before? I don’t know whether the first positive tests will be confirmed, but this is very bad news, obviously. As president of the Russian Biathlon Union, I tried to fight this scourge, but to no avail. It now seems we have yet another doping case on our hands.”

If confirmed, this will be the fifth doping scandal involving Russian biathletes, and the second for Ekaterina Yuryeva. In early 2009 she was disqualified for two years for using a banned substance. She returned to competitions only in the 2012/2013 season. She was initially doing quite well on the Russian national team, coming fourth at the Ostersund stage - but then her results began to deteriorate, and she was not chosen to represent Russia at the Olympics.

Russia is still smarting from a two-year disqualification of Albina Akhatova, who won gold at the Turin 2006 Olympics. Two times world champion Dmitry Doroshenko and Olga Pyleva were also banned from competitions for two years. Pyleva was the first female Russian biathlete caught using performance-enhancing drugs. She won silver in Turin, but almost immediately afterwards the banned substance carphedon was found in her samples. She lost her medal and was banned for two years.

Sergey Chepikov, who won gold at the Calgary Games in 1988, has offered his comments on the frequent doping scandals involving Russian biathletes.

“There are a lot of Norwegians on the anti-doping committee, whereas Russia is not represented at all. There is no-one there on the committee fighting for our corner," Chepikov said. “So all we can do now is watch the events unfold. Let us hope that our losses will be minimal.”

So far, no decision has been taken about disqualifying the latest batch of doping offenders. The initial findings must be confirmed by testing a second sample; the tests have been scheduled for February.

Other stories about Sochi you may like