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Russian medalist Semen Elistratov served drug suspension

AFP-JIJI

Russian athletes are a “major focus” for anti-doping tests, a senior Olympic official said on Sunday, as it emerged that the first Russian medalist in Pyeongchang served a drug suspension.

Semen Elistratov, who took bronze in the men’s 1,500-meter short-track speedskating on Saturday, was briefly suspended in 2016 after testing positive for meldonium — the same substance that saw Maria Sharapova banned.

The 27-year-old Elistratov is one of 168 athletes competing as a neutral Olympic Athlete from Russia, after Russia’s team was suspended as punishment for systemic doping.

Richard Budgett, medical director for the International Olympic Committee, said meldonium was a “special issue” and it seemed that Elistratov took the drug before it was banned at the start of 2016.

Russian tennis star Sharapova, a former world No. 1, served a 15-month ban after testing positive for meldonium in early 2016.

“Because of the way it’s metabolized, it can stay in the system for many, many months, even nine months after it had been taken,” Budgett said.

“So if the cases were consistent with meldonium intake before it was prohibited, then that would not be considered an anti-doping rule violation.

“We have to be realistic — meldonium was used in a widespread way throughout Eastern Europe and Russia and was considered to be a tonic, a type of cardiac stimulant that was not prohibited.

“But of course, quite rightly it was then prohibited and because it was such widespread use there were a large number of cases.”