Russian sports minister says Olympic curler didn’t take banned drug deliberately

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 20 (Reuters) – Russian Olympic medallist Alexander Krushelnitsky could not have taken a banned drug deliberately, Russia’s sports minister said on Tuesday after anti-doping authorities confirmed a violation that has rocked the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Krushelnitsky, who won bronze in Pyeongchang with his wife in mixed doubles curling, and is set to face a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in the near future after he tested positive for a banned substance, meldonium.

“It’s obvious that in this particular case, the athlete could not have intentionally used a prohibited substance, it just does not make any sense,” Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov told TASS news agency.

“Curling, in theory, is not the kind of sport in which dishonest athletes dope,” he added.

READ MORE: Doping charge against Russian medallist could ruin country’s shot at reinstatement

His comments echoed a general bewilderment among curling athletes over the case. The sport, a kind of chess on ice, calls for steady hands and concentration rather than physical fitness.

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The doping case has come at a delicate time for Russia, which has been accused of running a state-backed, systematic doping program for years, an allegation Moscow denies.

Its athletes are competing at Pyeongchang as neutral athletes, and Russia had been hoping that a clean record at the Games would enable it to return to full Olympic status.

The Russian Olympic delegation said on Tuesday it could not explain how meldonium, which can aid endurance, ended up in Krushelnitsky’s body and that it was launching an investigation.

“We express our sincere regret for this incident,” it said in a statement.

READ MORE: Russian Olympic curler fails doping test. Wait a minute, a curler?

“We completely share and support the position of the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency in terms of zero tolerance for doping and are taking all necessary measures for those who are guilty to be held as responsible as possible.”

The delegation said the concentration of meldonium found in Krushelnitsky’s sample suggested he would not have derived a benefit.

Krushelnitsky, who surrendered his Olympic accreditation on Monday and left the Games, has not replied to a request for comment.