MOSCOW (AP) — Despite failing a doping test for meldonium, World champion Yuliya Efimova said Monday she still hopes to swim at the Olympics in August.
In an emotional recorded statement on Russian state TV, Efimova said she tested positive for the recently banned endurance-boosting drug last month and insisted she was innocent.
“I categorically reject the accusation of doping,” she said. “At the current time, we are preparing for a hearing into my case. We intend to have the charge completely dismissed and to prove that I didn’t break anti-doping rules, and I continue to train with the hope that I will compete at the Olympic Games in Rio.”
A four-time gold medalist at the World Championships, the breaststroke specialist is widely considered to be Russia’s top medal hope in swimming at the Olympics.
Efimova, who won bronze in the 200m breaststroke at the 2012 London Olympics, could be banned for life if found guilty of a second career doping offense.
She was stripped of five European Championships medals after testing positive for the banned steroid DHEA in 2013. Efimova’s ban on that occasion was reduced from two years to 16 months after she argued that she had taken the substance by accident while trying to buy a legal supplement.
“I missed one and a half years due to my own stupidity,” Efimova said. “Since then I track especially carefully anything that enters my body and I give a guarantee that any medicines that I have taken or am taking are allowed.”
Efimova said she had taken meldonium for unspecified medical reasons, but stopped before Jan. 1, when the substance became banned in sports.
“Although the half-life of meldonium in organism is only 4-6 hours, its complete elimination time from organism is significantly longer,” the drug’s Latvian manufacturer, Grindeks, said in an e-mailed statement. “Its terminal elimination from the body may last for several months and it depends on a variety of factors.”
Her agent, Andrei Mitkov, refused to provide any more detail about Efimova’s medical circumstances in televised comments, saying he did not want to give away information before a hearing.
Mitkov said Efimova tested positive in two out-of-competition tests last month while training in Los Angeles. One was administered by swimming governing body FINA and the other by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Mitkov said.
Also Monday, Russia’s embattled track and field federation said four of its athletes had tested positive for meldonium at last month’s national indoor championships.
The cases pile more pressure on Russia, which was suspended from global track and field in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency commission report alleged systematic, state-sponsored doping. Russia could miss out on the Olympics if the ban is not lifted in time.
Two Russian runners have admitted to failing doping tests at last month’s championships. They are Andrei Minzhulin, who won the 5000 meters at the event, and Nadezhda Kotlyarova, who reached the semifinals in the 400m at last year’s World Championships.
Minzhulin told Russia’s R-Sport agency that he stopped taking meldonium in November but it remained in his system.
The federation did not identify those who had tested positive but said it was “carefully investigating” the cases and that athletes had been warned several times about meldonium after WADA said in September that it would be banned for 2016.
The IAAF did not respond to a request for comment.
Besides the Russians, there are also ongoing meldonium cases involving former World 1500 champion Abeba Aregawi of Sweden and former European Indoor 800m champion Nataliya Lupu of Ukraine.