Vladimir Putin
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Vladimir Putin: Meldonium not performance-enhancing drug

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin waded into the debate over meldonium on Thursday, saying the banned substance should not be considered a performance-enhancing drug.

There have been at least 172 failed drug tests for meldonium worldwide since the Latvian-made heart-drug was banned in 2016. Russian athletes — including tennis star Maria Sharapova — make up the largest contingent of those who have tested positive.

“This substance was never considered as doping,” Putin said during a marathon phone-in program on Russian television. “It doesn’t influence the result. That’s totally certain. It just keeps the heart muscles in good condition under high load.”

Among those watching in the studio was Ekaterina Bobrova, an Olympic gold medal-winning ice dancer who is suspended after testing positive for meldonium.

The company which makes meldonium has marketed it as improving energy levels in heart patients, while its inventor has previously said it increased the endurance of Soviet troops. However, the company also says meldonium should not be considered a performance-enhancer.

Meldonium was routinely used as a supplement by athletes in Eastern Europe before it was banned.

While Putin said he did not think authorities were targeting Russia in the decision to ban meldonium, he criticized the World Anti-Doping Agency for not carrying out research earlier on how long the drug takes to leave the body.

“There was no proper data,” he said.

Some athletes say they stopped taking meldonium before it was banned but have still tested positive, and WADA said Wednesday that athletes in that position could avoid sanctions if that argument is backed up by data showing a low concentration of the substance in their sample.

Putin was noncommittal when asked by Russian track head coach Yuri Borzakovsky about the team’s chances of being allowed to compete at the Olympics in August. Russia was suspended from global track and field in November after a WADA report detailed widespread, state-sponsored drug use.

“They’re obviously in a hard situation, but you have to be ready for anything, it seems to me, if you ask my opinion,” Putin said. “Of course we will fight for decisions to be fair. The Russian Sports Ministry, our sports organizations are working with good lawyers at a world level on this issue and are studying all aspects of the topic.”

MORE: Putin: Sochi best Winter Olympics in history

Does Lance Armstrong believe doping contributed to cancer?

Lance Armstrong
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Lance Armstrong said on Sunday’s ESPN film “Lance” that he didn’t know whether he got testicular cancer because of his doping in the early-to-mid 1990s.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “And I don’t want to say no because I don’t think that’s right, either. I don’t know if it’s yes or no, but I certainly wouldn’t say no. The only thing I will tell you is the only time in my life that I ever did growth hormone was the 1996 season [before being diagnosed with moderate to advanced cancer in October 1996]. So just in my head, I’m like ‘growth, growing, hormones and cells.’ Like, if anything good needs to be grown, it does. But wouldn’t it also make sense that if anything bad is there, that it, too, would grow?”

Armstrong was asked a similar question by Oprah Winfrey in his January 2013 doping confession.

“Do you think that banned substances contributed to you getting cancer?” Winfrey asked.

“I don’t think so,” Armstrong said then. “I’m not a doctor, I’ve never had a doctor tell me that or suggest that to me personally, but I don’t believe so.”

That was not the first time doping and cancer were part of the same conversation.

Teammate Frankie Andreu and then-fiancee Betsy said that Armstrong told a doctor on Oct. 27, 1996, at Indiana University Hospital that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs; EPO, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisone and steroids.

Armstrong said he probably began doping at age 21, in 1992 or 1993.

“I remember when we were on a training ride in 2002, Lance told me that [Michele] Ferrari [the infamous doctor who provided performance-enhancing drugs] had been paranoid that he had helped cause the cancer and became more conservative after that,” former teammate Floyd Landis said in 2011, according to Sports Illustrated.

TIMELINE: Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall

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Cortina requests to postpone Alpine skiing worlds from 2021 to 2022

Alpine Skiing World Championships
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The Italian Winter Sports Federation was making a formal request on Monday to postpone next year’s world Alpine skiing championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo until March 2022.

Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malagò revealed the plans during an interview with RAI state TV on Sunday night.

Considering the fallout in Italy from the coronavirus pandemic, Malagò said “this is the best solution” in order to avoid the championships being canceled or shortened.

“It’s a decision in which we both lose but we realize this is the best — or maybe the only thing — to do,” Malago said.

The Italian federation confirmed that the proposal would be presented during an International Ski Federation (FIS) board meeting Monday. The Italian federation added that the decision to make the proposal was made jointly by the organizing committee in Cortina, the Veneto region and the Italian government.

It will be up to FIS to decide on any postponement.

Cortina was already forced to cancel the World Cup Finals in March this year due to the advancing virus, which has now accounted for more than 30,000 deaths in Italy.

Moving the worlds to March 2022 would put the event one month after the Beijing Olympics and likely force FIS to cancel that season’s finals in Méribel and Courchevel, France.

The Cortina worlds are currently scheduled for Feb. 7-21, 2021.

Worlds are usually held every other winter, in odd years.

Cortina is also slated to host Alpine events during the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics.

MORE: Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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