The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has announced that Russian swimmer Nikita Lobintsev has accepted a “no fault” finding after a positive test for the banned substance Meldonium. He’s a two-time Olympic medalist, taking silver as part of Russia’s 800 free relay in Beijing and Bronze as part of Russia’s 400 free relay in London.
Lobintsev is at least the 3rd Russian swimmer in 2016 to test positive for Meldonium, which was not outlawed by the World Anti-Doping Code until January 1st, 2016. The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has made allowances for the fact that there isn’t enough research on how long it takes Meldonium to clear the body and said that anyone who tests positive through September won’t be penalized.
All three swimmers, all of whom were on Russia’s initial Olympic roster, have been handed a no-fault finding.
Lobintsev was originally a member of the 35 swimmer roster approved by the Russian Olympic Committee for this year’s Rio Games; however, he was one of 7 that FINA has announced have been removed from that roster.
Lobintsev, now 27, says he was first recommended Meldonium at age 19 by the Russian national swimming team doctor “to protect his heart during strenuous training for competitions,” a common claim from Russian athletes who have taken the substance.
Lobintsev says on the doctor’s advice, he continued taking the drug once a year, obtaining it over-the-counter in Russia. He admitted to using it in August of 2015 after the World Championships and again in late September, saying that his use ended “on or around October 3, 2015,” according to USADA.
“We have seen a trend of medical practitioners advising apparently healthy, young athletes in 2015, before meldonium was included on the WADA Prohibited List, to use this pharmaceutical product in connection with athletic training and performance,” said USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart. “The disturbing pattern of use associated with this performance-enhancing drug appears to be one more example of a growing practice in sport in which coaches ask for, physicians prescribe, and athletes use pharmaceuticals not for their primary purpose of health and safety, but to enhance athletic performance.”
The matter becomes convoluted thereafter, as each of the three Russians who have tested positive for Meldonium this year have a slightly different circumstance.
- Yulia Efimova, the defending World Champion in the 100 breaststroke, had the charges against her dropped by FINA as a result of the WADA policy for a grace period. She, however, was still removed from the Olympics as a result of the IOC directive that any athlete previously sanctioned for doping was not eligible to compete.
- Grigory Tarasevich, who also had his case adjudicated in the United States, has also been given a no-fault finding. Tarasevich was not on FINA’s initial list of 7, implying that they do not interpret a no-fault finding as a “sanction,” and that pending further announcements, he’s eligible for the Olympics (though nobody has been able to confirm that interpretation for certain yet).
- Nikita Lobintsev, the primary subject of the new announcement, had the same Meldonium finding as Tarasevich, and they both train in the United States. The difference, however, is that Lobintsev was one of three athletes pulled from the Olympics by FINA because they were named under the “disappearing positive test” findings in the McLaren IP report. This means that investigators have alleged that they’ve found evidence that positive tests by Lobintsev have been turned into negative (or ‘clean’) tests by Russian doping officials.
All that to say that Lobintsev, despite being cleared on his Meldonium test, is still not eligible for the Olympics, barring any successful appeals.