A Russian bobsledder who once proudly wore a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “I DON’T DO DOPING” has tested positive for doping at the Winter Olympics.
The result for 30-year-old Nadezhda Sergeeva, announced by the Russian Bobsled Federation on its website Friday, is a big setback for Russia, which is trying to move past scandalous allegations that its own government led a massive and complex doping program aimed at cheating in the Olympics.
So far, two of the four athletes at the Pyeongchang Winter Games who have tested positive for banned substances are from Russia. And the man who first broke the news to the press that Sergeeva flunked the test — Russian Bobsled Federation president Alexander Zubkov — is himself a former bobsledder who was stripped of two Olympic gold medals in the doping scandal.
“The Bobsled Federation of Russia and the athlete herself understand the extent of their responsibility, and also understand that what has happened may impact the fate of the entire team,” the Federation said in a statement.
Russia was officially banned from the 2018 Winter Games for what investigators concluded was a massive government-led doping program at the 2014 Olympics, which were held in the Russian seaside resort town of Sochi. The plot even involved Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB, according to the former head of Russia’s national anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, who blew the lid off the scheme before disappearing into the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program, fearing for his life.
Despite the ban, 169 Russian athletes who weren’t proven to be linked to the doping program were cleared to compete wearing neutral uniforms as “Olympic Аthletes from Russia,” with the acronym OAR on their jerseys.
That mixed response by the International Olympic Committee — banning the country while welcoming its athletes — brought criticism down on the IOC over its handling of the affair.
“The IOC response has been fairly ham-handed, to say the least,” Peter Donnelly, director of the Center for Sport Policy Studies at the University of Toronto, told VICE News as the Games were kicking off.
Before the Games, Sergeeva appeared in a slick video tagged on YouTube as an “unofficial advertisement” for ZASPORT, the official clothing supplier to the Russian Olympic Committee. The same company had been forced to design neutral Olympic outfits for Russian athletes following the allegations of doping.
In the video, Sergeeva talks in a voiceover about how sports have allowed her to “become myself,” and appears in a sweatshirt reading: “I DON’T DO DOPING, I AM ZA SPORT.” (The line is also a play on words; “za” means “for” in Russian.)
Before the Games, Russian officials had expressed hope that making it through the event without notable violations would convince Olympic officials to return Russia’s national flag for the closing ceremony. That decision is due on Saturday.
Before the news of her failed test broke Friday, Sergeeva herself had publicly expressed hope that a clean performance by the Russian delegation would bring the country’s flag back.
“If we are here, and we are clean,” she told Yahoo Sports, “we should be able to walk under our flag.”
According to the Federation, Sergeeva tested positive for heart medication called trimetazidine, a drug used for chest pain that’s banned because it boosts the metabolism. The Russian delegation said she denied taking the substance, and that a test five days earlier had been clean.
Russia’s other positive test came from curling medalist Alexander Krushelnitsky, who earlier this week agreed to hand back his mixed-team bronze medal after an analysis revealed traces of a drug that increases exercise capacity, called meldonium — the same substance for which Russia’s Maria Sharapova was temporarily banned from tennis.