FINA has announced a 2-year suspension for Olympic gold medalist Ruta Meilutyte, which is back-dated to July of 2019 for missing 3 anti-doping control tests in a 12-month period. The suspension dates to July 21, 2019, the day of the anti-doping hearing, and will end on July 20, 2021.
The announcement of the suspension comes nearly 8 months after the FINA Anti-Doping Panel heard the case, and the suspension is back-dated to the date of the hearing rather than the date of the last missed test or last competition.
During the hearing, Meliutyte took full responsibility for the missed tests, saying that she was taking time off from swimming and travelling in Lithuania and simply failed to update her whereabouts correctly. She requested that she be given a 12-month suspension that would allow her to return before the Tokyo Olympics, which she says are “probably going to be my last Olympics.”
“I would be grateful if I could still have the opportunity to go to Tokyo.”
In a follow-up letter, Meilutyte said that “I had simply been inattentive with ADAMS system for the last year because I was in the process of retiring from the sport.” ADAMS is the system where athletes inform testing authorities of their whereabouts. That follow-up letter did express a possible interest in returning to swimming in the future via asking a question of how the suspension would be viewed in light of her retirement.
FINA ruled that there was no flexibility where “a pattern of last-minute whereabouts changes or other conduct raises a serious suspicion that the Athlete was trying to avoid being available for Testing.”
This statement is significant because the hearing happened in July – 2 months after Meilutyte announced her retirement from swimming. Meilutyte said that she was battling severe depression that was driven in part by the pressure to continue her success after the 2012 Olympics. Her then-coach Dave Salo, based out of American university USC, said that she took a ‘leave of absence’ from swimming after the 2018 World Short Course Swimming Championships, which was her last meet on record.
According to World Anti-Doping Code rules, Meilutyte would have to make herself available for testing for the balance of her 2-year suspension (public information indicates that she didn’t serve any of that suspension) before being eligible to compete in International Events or National Events.
The 22-year old Meilutyte burst onto the international swimming scene at the 2012 Olympic Games when she was 15-years old, winning gold in the women’s 100 meter breaststroke. At the time training in the UK under Jon Rudd, she was the youngest Lithuanian to ever represent the country at a modern Olympic Games. She had mixed success in the remainder of her career, facing a number of injuries, with highlights including winning a 2013 long course World Championship gold medal in the 100 breaststroke in a World Record-breaking time.
Ruta Meilutyte‘s Initial Statement to the court:
As I mentioned before, I take full responsibility for the missed tests. I’ve been on Adams for the last 7 years of my swimming career and always took a responsibility as an athlete to promote clean sport, never got a positive test. Last year I was traveling a lot ‐ my two missed tests happened on April 2018 and March 2018 as I was traveling from one country to another. August 2018 ‐ I was having time off after main summer competitions, I was travelingin Lithuania and I failed to update the whereabouts correctly. I kindly ask you to consider my situation. If 12 month suspension is given to me ‐ I could stillpursue my goal to compete at Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which is probably going to be my last olympics [sic]. I would be grateful if I could still have the opportunityto go to Tokyo. Thank you.
Ruta Meilutyte‘s Follow-Up Statement to the court:
Dear Johan Lefebvre,
Thank you for the letter from Mr. Fox.
In response to his letter- I have no further arguments against this case, like I’ve said before, I take full responsibility for missing the tests, I had simply
been inattentive with ADAMS system for the last year because I was in process of retiring from the sport. I didn’t do my whereabouts as diligently as before, I was traveling a lot. As for the hearing in Switzerland, I had assumed that I will just be attending it through a video chat, I understand that was not made clear by me. I accept the composition of this FINA Doping panel to make decisions on my case.
I also have a question. I have come to a decision to retire from the sport of swimming. I am still on Adams system, but I would like to leave it now because I am not swimming anymore, I don’t want to miss any more tests. If I receive suspension when I’m officially retired, does the time of suspension count, or do I need to be on Wada Adams system in the period of the suspension? (if that makes sense) Because the Anti-doping of Lithuania have told me that if
I retire and leave Adams system now my suspension time won’t be counted unless I register to Wada Adams system again and officially become a
swimmer again. Is this true?
Thank you, I hope you understood my question.
FINA Decision on suspension reduction:
In accordance with DC 10.3.2 for violations of DC 2.4 the period of
ineligibility shall be two years, subject to reduction down to a minimum of one year, depending on the Athlete’s degree of Fault. The flexibility between two years and one year of ineligibility in this rule is not available to Athletes where a pattern of last-minute whereabouts changes or other conduct raises a serious suspicion that the Athlete was trying to avoid being available for
Testing. It is the FINA Doping Panel’s position that the athlete was very slack with the management of the information relevant to her whereabouts, but that no evidence pointed to any pattern, nor did the Athlete, who has the burden of presenting evidence to the Panel to obtain a reduced sanction, provide any explanation which the Panel could consider as rebutting a pattern which could nallow it to envisage a reduced sanction.