PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Kei Saito, a member of the Japan short track speed skating team at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, has tested positive for acetazolamide and been provisionally suspended, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said Tuesday.
It is the first registered case to CAS by the International Olympic Committee at these games. Saito, 21, a reserve on the men’s 5,000-meter relay team, failed an out-of-competition test in the lead-up to the games, CAS said in a statement.
The Japanese Olympic Committee said Saito was tested at the athletes’ village in Gangneung on Feb. 4, and was informed three days later by the IOC that the results came out positive for an A sample.
On Friday, CAS notified Saito he was provisionally banned and had his B sample tested. The following evening, the IOC notified the JOC the B sample also came back positive.
Saito’s case was heard by CAS on Monday before Tuesday’s decision was announced. He has agreed to leave the Olympic village and will also be banned indefinitely from all International Skating Union competitions.
Saito denied intentionally doping in a statement.
“I am extremely shocked by these results,” he said. “I’ve never once considered doping. When I was tested Jan. 29 at camp, the results did not turn out any banned substances.
“The only way I could have this substance in my system is that I took it unknowingly, that it happened by accident.”
He added: “I plan to fight to prove my innocence but right now, I do not want to be a disturbance to my team competing at the Olympic Games, so I have decided to accept the provisional suspension and will leave the team and the athletes village voluntarily.”
JOC official Yasuo Saito said the skater was “extremely shocked” and “could not comprehend” the findings. Acetazolamide, a masking agent and diuretic, is a drug that cannot be purchased in Japan without a prescription.
In a revelation that should rock the host of the 2020 Summer Olympics, the positive test is the first ever returned by a Japanese athlete at a Winter Olympics.
CAS’ statement read: “For the second time in the history of the Olympic Games after Rio 2016, the CAS is in charge of doping-related matters arising on the occasion of the games as a first-instance authority.”
“This new structure handles doping cases referred to it in accordance with the IOC Anti-Doping Rules. The CAS (Anti-Doping Division) adjudicates on these cases after hearing the parties concerned. It may also impose provisional suspensions pending the conclusion of the procedure.
“Final decisions rendered by the CAS ADD may be appealed before the CAS ad hoc Division in Pyeongchang or before the CAS in Lausanne after the end of” the Olympic Winter Games.
“For the first time, the international federations concerned may also intervene in the CAS ADD procedures in order that the same case be heard only once.”
IOC director of communications Mark Adams said in a daily briefing that “all sanctioning and testing is now completely independent of the IOC” and the case is “a matter of CAS.”
The skater, whose sister Hitomi is also competing in Pyeongchang, was a member of Japan’s 3,000-meter relay team that finished third at the 2013 and 2014 world juniors.
While Japan has had a relatively clean image and record with respect to doping, the nation, which is planning to make a bid to host the 2026 Winter Games with Sapporo, has been hit with a recent spate of infringements.
In January, Yasuhiro Suzuki, a Tokyo Olympic hopeful in kayaking, spiked a fellow competitor’s drink with an anabolic steroid and now faces a lifetime ban.
In October, a university wrestler tested positive for a banned substance, drawing a two-year ban and the month before that, a collegiate swimmer also tested positive and was hit with a seven-month suspension.
The most notable case of Japanese athletes violating anti-doping rules came at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, where members of the Japanese men’s volleyball team tested positive for a stimulant.