Controversy flares at the Winter Olympics as a second Russian athlete fails a drug test, while officials consider lifting the doping ban on Russia

By Kurt Pitzer
February 23, 2018 02:23 PM

A Russian bobsledder at the 2018 Winter Olympics has failed a doping test for a banned, metabolism-boosting drug, it was announced Friday. The news came a day after officials stripped two Russian curlers of their bronze medals for use of a different illegal substance.

Nadezhda Sergeeva, who placed 12th in a bobsledding event Feb. 17, had tested clean four days earlier, according to an announcement by the Russian Bobsled Federation. But a doping test administered Feb. 18 showed she had taken trimetazidine, a heart drug on the prohibited list for Olympic athletes.

BMW IBSF World Cup Koenigssee Day 2
Credit: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty

It couldn’t have come at a worse time for Russia, which was banned as a nation from the Winter Olympics and has sought reinstatement in time for the Feb. 25 closing ceremony.

On Thursday, officials stripped curlers Alexander Krushelnitsky and his wife/co-competitor Anastasia Bryzgalova of their bronze medals — the first and so far only medals rescinded at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang — for Krushelnitsky’s use of the banned drug meldonium.

Credit: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty

The board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is scheduled to meet Saturday for an 11th-hour decision on whether the Russians could officially participate in the closing ceremony.

The IOC banned Russia in December for systemic doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Krushelnitsky, Sergeeva and 167 other Russians were allowed to compete as “Olympic athletes from Russia” (OAR) but could not fly their nation’s flag or wear Russian insignia during the Winter Olympics.


It was unclear what effect Sergeeva’s failed test would have on the IOC’s pending decision.

Russia had already been in damage-control mode since Krushelnitsky’s failed drug test became public Feb. 18, redoubling its diplomatic push for reinstatement.

In a highly unusual move, Krushelnitsky offered to give back the medal even before his doping was confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, waiving his right to a hearing. Russia immediately opened a criminal investigation into the doping. And the Russian Olympic Committee on Thursday paid $15 million it has owed the IOC since the doping ban was imposed.

Will it be enough?

Will figure skaters Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva wear their gold and silver medals along with the Russian tricolor at the closing ceremony? Or will they and the other Russian athletes continue to suffer their nation’s doping history, forced to wear neutral uniforms and march under a generic Olympic banner?

Whichever the IOC chooses, it’s sure to be a controversial talking point as the Winter Olympics wrap up.

According to reports before news of Sergeeva’s failed doping test, IOC officials were likely to let Russians fly their flag. But the committee’s deliberations have been cloaked in secrecy.

“There is a group within the IOC who do not want them to come back for the closing ceremony, and obviously the doping case in curling is not good for Russia,” an unnamed source told Reuters, adding that “this group is a minority.” The IOC declined comment.

Curlers maintain innocence

Krushelnitsky and Bryzgalova had won bronze in the mixed-doubles curling event. Their medals will be awarded to the fourth-place finishers, Magnus Nedregotten and Kristin Skaslien of Norway.

2018 Winter Olympic Games: Curling, Mixed Doubles, United States 9 - 3 Russia
Credit: Valery SharifulinTASS/Getty

But the president of Russia’s curling federation, Dmitry Svishchev, hinted that the pair could still fight the guilty doping verdict after the Olympics end.

He said Krushelnitsky’s failed test showed only a single dose of the drug meldonium and argued it was more likely that a sporting rival or one of Russia’s political enemies spiked the curler’s food or drink with the banned substance.

“This is by no means an admission of guilt, nor an end to the fight for our guys’ honor,” Svishchev was quoted in a statement on the federation’s website.

Medals stripped in previous years

The IOC has stripped more than 140 medals from athletes since 1968. The vast majority have been for doping, including American cyclist Tyler Hamilton and track stars Marion Jones and Tyson Gay. Most of the sanctions have been imposed months or years after the Olympic events.

The case of the Russian curlers is highly unusual for the speed at which the doping was discovered and prosecuted, as well as for the wider controversy it has fed.