Viktor Ahn
AP

Russian Olympic, world champion athletes barred from PyeongChang

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MOSCOW (AP) — Several of Russia’s top medal hopes for the PyeongChang Olympics, including six-time short track speed skating gold medalist Viktor Ahn, have been barred from the Games amid the country’s ongoing doping scandal, sparking renewed talk of a boycott.

Already depleted by doping bans and forced to compete under a neutral flag, Russia now faces an Olympics without some of its top skiers, figure skaters and sliders after they failed to pass International Olympic Committee vetting.

The exclusions have stirred renewed talk of a boycott, something athletes and officials ruled out last month when the IOC formally banned the Russian team, instead allowing “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under the Olympic flag.

“There was an attempt to take the Russian athletes’ flag, anthem, to push Russia toward a boycott … And now this is the second attempt, tyranny, an attempt to drive a wedge between athletes who had managed to keep their good name,” Mikhail Degtyarev, chairman of the Russian parliament’s sports committee, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“I’m not personally a supporter of a boycott. I consider it counterproductive, but we need to defend our honor.”

The Russian Figure Skating Federation also said the IOC was trying to provoke Russia into a boycott.

The federation said it was “deeply disappointed in this baseless IOC decision which is reminiscent of a provocation with the aim of forcing Russian athletes by any means possible to decline to participate in the games.”

However, officials from Russia’s luge and curling federations spoke out against a possible boycott.

Besides Ahn, the Russian Olympic Committee said Tuesday that cross-country skier Sergei Ustyugov and biathlete Anton Shipulin had been left out of an IOC pool of eligible athletes.

Other officials said that two-time figure skating medalist Ksenia Stolbova and several other speedskaters were excluded.

ROC senior vice president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said in a statement that he discovered the absences during negotiations with IOC officials on Monday and has asked the Olympic body to explain why they were not included.

Pozdnyakov said Ahn, Ustyugov and Shipulin “have never been involved in any doping cases and all of the many samples they have given during their careers testify that they are clean athletes. Regardless, their names are currently missing from the list of potential participants in the games.”

The IOC said it would not comment on individual cases, and has not spelled out the criteria used to refuse invitations to the athletes named Tuesday in Russia.

Ahn, a short-track speedskater, won three gold medals for South Korea at the 2006 Olympics as Ahn Hyun-soo before switching allegiance to Russia in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, where he won three more.

The Russian Figure Skating Federation said in a statement that Stolbova, who won team gold and pairs silver in 2014, was excluded, as well as ice dancer Ivan Bukin, the son of 1988 Olympic gold medalist Andrei Bukin.

The head of the Russian Skating Union, Alexei Kravtsov, told the RIA Novosti state news agency that numerous other speedskaters had been barred.

They include world champions Pavel Kulizhnikov and Denis Yuskov, both of whom have previously served bans for failed doping tests, as well as Ruslan Zakharov, who won an Olympic short track relay gold medal in Sochi,

Five hockey players have also been barred, including former NHL players Sergei Plotnikov, Valeri Nichushkin and Anton Belov.

The Russian Hockey Federation submitted a list of more than 40 players it wished to choose from for its 25-man Olympic team. The federation named most of its superstars in the KHL — like Ilya KovalchukPavel Datsyuk and Slava Voynov — but left off three-time Olympian defenseman Andrei Markov.

Russian news agencies reported that the IOC still considers all members of the Russian Alpine skiing, freestyle skiing and curling teams to be eligible.

As punishment for what it termed a sophisticated doping program at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the IOC has forced all Russians competing in PyeongChang to do so as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under the Olympic flag, rather than as an official Russian team.

Russian athletes must be vetted by an IOC commission, which will examine their history of drug testing and links to past doping, before they are invited to the games.

On Friday, the IOC said it had cut an initial list of 500 Russian athletes down to a pool of 389, but didn’t give any names. Russian officials have expressed hope they could field a team of 200 athletes. That’s below the number that competed for Russia in 2014, but above its total from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow is waiting for the IOC to clarify the situation.

“We have seen those deplorable reports in the media,” Peskov said. “We deeply regret if such decisions have indeed been taken. But we hope the situation will clear up because we do have contacts with the IOC. We hope those contacts will help clarify the situation around the aforementioned prominent athletes.”

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MORE: IOC creates pool of Russians eligible for PyeongChang Olympics

Viktor Ahn (Short Track Speed Skating)
Eight Olympic medals
Six Olympic gold medals
Most decorated male athlete at Sochi Olympics (three golds, one bronze)

Anton Shipulin (Biathlon)
Top four in World Cup standings each of the last four seasons

Sergei Ustyugov (Cross-Country Skiing)
Five medals at 2017 World Championships
Second in 2016-17 World Cup overall standings
2017 Tour de Ski champion

Ksenia Stolbova (Figure Skating)
2014 Olympic, World silver medalist

Pavel Kulizhnikov (Speed Skating)
2016 World champion, 500m and 1000m

Denis Yuskov (Speed Skating)
2017-18 World Cup leader, 1500m
2016 World champion, 1500m

WADA: 99 positive meldonium tests; list of notable athletes

Maria Sharapova
Getty Images
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MOSCOW (AP) — The drug at the center of the Maria Sharapova doping case has produced 99 positive tests so far this year, the World Anti-Doping Agency said Friday.

WADA spokesman Ben Nichols told The Associated Press in an e-mail that since meldonium was banned on Jan. 1 “there have been 99 adverse analytical findings” for the drug.

Nichols did not provide details of who has tested positive.

Meldonium, a blood-flow boosting drug produced in Latvia, is most common in Eastern European and former Soviet countries, where it is often available over the counter.

Seven of the 16 confirmed cases come from Russian athletes, including Sharapova, who admitted she had tested positive on Monday at a news conference. Sharapova said she has been taking meldonium for 10 years for various health issues and did not know it had been banned.

Other cases involve athletes from Ukraine, Georgia and Sweden.

Athletes who fail doping tests can face a ban of up to four years for a first offense, but substantial reductions can be imposed if they demonstrate that they did not intend to enhance their performance.

WADA announced in September that meldonium, which was once used to help boost the endurance of Soviet troops, would be banned from 2016, citing evidence of the drug’s performance-enhancing benefits and widespread use in international sports.

Since Sharapova announced that she tested positive, the Russian government has criticized WADA. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that meldonium should never have been banned, arguing that it doesn’t enhance performance.

Within Russia, senior figures have been shifting blame between federation officials, team doctors and the athletes themselves. The head of the speedskating federation has said he suspects some people of spiking their teammates with meldonium so that they would test positive.

On Friday, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told the Interfax news agency that an investigation was under way into how so many athletes tested positive.

“I share collective responsibility,” he said, adding that the answer was not to reduce Russia’s reliance on sports medications but to develop new drugs that are not banned.

“When we aren’t creating our own, we get caught using Latvian or Chinese substances,” Mutko said. “We should have our own scientific research activity in high-level sport.

Here’s a list of the most notable athletes widely reported to have tested positive for meldonium:

Abeba Aregawi
Sweden, Track and Field (2013 World 1500m champion)

Yekaterina Bobrova
Russia, Figure Skating (Olympic team event champion)

Semion Elistratov
Russia, Short Track Speed Skating (Olympic 5000m relay champion)

Pavel Kulizhnikov
Russia, Speed Skating (2016 World 500m, 1000m champion)

Eduard Latypov
Russia, Biathlon (2015 World junior champion)

Davit Modzmanashvili
Georgia, Wrestling (Olympic silver medalist)

Maria Sharapova
Russia, Tennis (Olympic silver medalist)

MORE: What is Meldonium?

Another Russian star athlete tests positive for meldonium

Pavel Kulizhnikov
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — With the sports world’s attention focused on Maria Sharapova‘s positive test for meldonium, three other doping cases among elite Russian athletes have emerged in the last two days.

World champion speed skater Pavel Kulizhnikov, Olympic gold medal-winning ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova and national team volleyball player Alexander Markov are all suspected of taking meldonium, according to Russian reports.

The 21-year-old Kulizhnikov has won five World Championships gold medals since the start of 2015. He is also world record-holder in the 500 meters.

Russian speed skating coach Dmitry Dorofeev did not say when or where Kulizhnikov tested positive for meldonium, which has been on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances since Jan. 1. Once used in the Soviet military, meldonium is sold in Eastern Europe as a treatment for heart and circulation problems.

Dorofeev told Russia’s Tass news agency that Kulizhnikov had used meldonium while it was legal.

“We all know that meldonium was banned. He hasn’t been taking it for a year,” Dorofeev said. “We are clean, we didn’t take the substance. How it got in there, we don’t know.”

Kulizhnikov previously served a doping ban between 2012 and 2014 after a positive test for methylhexaneamine.

Separately, the governing body of ice skating confirmed Tuesday that Bobrova was provisionally suspended. The former Olympic gold medalist and European champion has told Russian media she tested positive for meldonium at January’s European championship, where she finished third.

In a third case, Russian volleyball federation general secretary Alexander Yaremenko told Tass that Markin had tested positive for meldonium.

“We’ve declined to test the ‘B’ sample. The signs it (meldonium) was consumed are clear,” Yaremenko said. “The Dynamo club took a course of this substance in December and the doping test was taken Jan. 9 at a training camp.”

Since it was banned at the start of the year, two Ukrainian biathletes and Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov have also tested positive for meldonium.

MORE: What is Meldonium?