Two athletes have tested positive for banned substances thus far at the Pyeongchang Olympics, a short-track speedskater and a curler. Yes, a curler. Doping is not uncommon in short-track, but it is unheard of in curling. Nevertheless, while the second doper’s sport may be surprising, his country is not.
Alexander Krushelnytsky is from Russia. In December of 2017, the IOC banned the entire Russian team from the 2018 Olympics as a result of the systematic doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. However, the IOC’s ban was not absolute. If a Russian athlete could show the IOC that he was subject to rigorous, valid drug testing throughout his career, the athlete would be granted a special dispensation to compete. The athletes who received the special dispensation are competing in Pyeongchang under the Olympic flag, in neutral colors as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” If one of these athletes wins a gold medal, the Olympic anthem, not the Russian national anthem, will be played.
Krushelnytsky and his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova, won a bronze medal in mixed doubles curling during the first week of the games. In a post-competition drug test, Krushelnytsky reportedly tested positive for meldonium, the doping drug of choice for endurance athletes, which increases blood flow and improves recovery time. He is currently awaiting the results of his B-sample, confirmation test to determine whether he will be stripped of his bronze medal.
In the grand scheme of these Olympics, a curler losing his medal will do little harm to the sport. No one associates doping and curling, even among the sport’s most successful competitors. However, the harm this could cause the Russian team is enormous. It was rumored the IOC was going to permit the Russian athletes to march in the Closing Ceremonies under the Russian flag, as a sign the country had served its penance. This positive test puts that entire penance in jeopardy and could cost Russia in future Olympics.
It is almost a guarantee that Russian athletes likely will be subject to even more testing by the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA). Heightened testing could reveal more Russian dopers among the supposedly “clean” pool of individuals the IOC cleared to compete. For the IOC, the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” were supposed to restore the world’s faith in this country’s athletic integrity, not call it into question even more. As a result, if another Russian tests positive, not only will the IOC prohibit the country from marching under the Russian flag in the closing ceremonies, it may extend the ban to future Olympics.
So, as Krushelnytsky awaits the results of his second test, Russian officials are crossing their fingers that the meldonium finding was a false positive. The country justifiably received a harsh sentence for its Sochi doping scandal four years ago and needs to move past Pyeongchang in order to begin to restore its reputation. It would be a shame if the individual who cost the Russian team its shot at redemption is someone who has no reason to dope in the first place.