What is Meldonium? Maria Sharapova, more Olympians testing positive

Maria Sharapova
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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova says she failed a drug test for meldonium at the Australian Open. The drug was only banned in January and there has been a string of failed tests by athletes in several sports since.

Here are some things to know about meldonium:

WHO’S TESTED POSITIVE?

As well as Sharapova, one of the world’s top ice dancers also said Monday that she tested positive.

Ekaterina Bobrova is a former European champion who was part of the Olympic gold medal-winning Russian team at the 2014 Winter Olympics. She told Russian media the positive test was “a big shock.” Another Russian case last month saw cyclist Eduard Vorganov test positive.

Besides notable Russians, Swedish media reported in February that 2013 World champion 1,500m runner Abeba Aregawi had tested positive for meldonium. Two other cases involved Ukrainians competing in the winter sport of biathlon.

WHAT DOES IT DO?

Also marketed as mildronate, the website of the drug’s Latvian manufacturer Grindeks says meldonium gives sufferers of heart and circulatory conditions more “physical capacity and mental function” — and a similar boost to healthy people. Meldonium was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance.

WHO TAKES IT?

Meldonium is most commonly used in Eastern European and ex-Soviet countries as a drug for people with heart conditions, but it’s also offered for sale online. There are also signs that a sizable minority of athletes were using before it was banned.

In October, the U.S.-based Partnership for Clean Competition, an anti-doping group, said meldonium was found in 182 of 8,300 urine samples from athletes as part of a study part-funded by the PCC.

HOW WAS IT BANNED?

The World Anti-Doping Agency monitored the effects and use of meldonium before announcing in September that it would be declared a banned substance from Jan. 1, 2016.

WADA declared the decision on its website more than three months before the ban, and it was also announced by the Russian anti-doping agency.

Sharapova said she received an e-mail from WADA linking to information that meldonium would be banned ahead of the 2016 season but did not read the information at the time. Sharapova says she has been taking the drug for 10 years for numerous health issues.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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Sifan Hassan sets marathon debut

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Sifan Hassan, who won 5000m and 10,000m gold and 1500m bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in an unprecedented triple, will make her 26.2-mile debut at the London Marathon on April 23.

Hassan, a 30-year-old Dutchwoman, said she will return to the track after the race, but how the London Marathon goes will play into whether she bids for the Olympic marathon in 2024.

“I want to see what I can do on the marathon distance, to make future decisions,” she posted on social media. “We’ll see if I will finish the distance or if the distance will finish me.”

Exhausted by her Olympic feat, Hassan reportedly went at least seven months after the Tokyo Games between training in track spikes. She finished fourth in the 10,000m and sixth in the 5000m at last July’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon.

“I really needed a break after the Tokyo Olympics,” Hassan said at worlds. “I was mentally crashed. I didn’t even care about running.”

London, billed as the best women’s marathon field in history, also boasts Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya, world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia, 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia and the two fastest Americans in history, Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato.

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