You might have heard that Russia was banned from Olympic competition because of a massive state-sponsored doping program. And that now, Russian athletes competing in PyeongChang are only allowed to do so after rigorous testing, without the Russian flag, and as a cumbersomely named "Olympic Athlete from Russia," or OAR. If you've been following that story, then you'll also want to know who Alexander Krushelnytsky is — because even after all of that, this Russian curling bronze medalist has reportedly just failed a doping test.
A sample of Krushelnytsky's urine was reportedly found to contain meldonium, a substance that is usually used to treat people who have had heart attacks. It's been banned since 2016, but Russian athletes often used it before that ruling was made — including prominent international athletes like tennis player Maria Sharapova.
Under normal usage, meldonium treats ischaemia patients, or people whose blood isn't flowing properly to all parts of the body. In healthy people — like the Russian athletes found to have had it in their blood tests — it increases blood flow, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry. This then apparently increases the athlete's capacity to exercise, giving them an unfair advantage.
Athletes submit multiple urine samples for testing, and so far only the first of Krushelnytsky's test has come back positive for meldonium — so he could still be cleared.
An OAR spokesperson confirmed that an athlete from their delegation had tested positive for a banned substance, but they did not name Krushelnytsky or the sport because they said they were waiting for his second sample to be tested. According to reports in the Russian media, Krushelnytsky has claimed that he believes the positive test most likely came because a fellow Russian athlete who was not chosen for the team spiked his drink with meldonium before he left for PyeongChang.
IOC officials will test Krushelnytsky's B sample on Monday, and the results of that test will determine whether or not Krushelnytsky and his wife and curling partner Anastasia Bryzgalova get to keep their bronze medals. They beat Norway in the bronze medal game, and if the second sample comes back positive for meldonium, then the bronze will be passed on to the Norwegian athletes — who already left PyeongChang, and who would have to accept it without the pleasure of standing proudly on a podium.
“I hope it’s not true ... for the sport of curling,” said Norwegian curler Thomas Ulsrud. “If it’s true I feel really sad for the Norwegian team who worked really hard and ended up in fourth place and just left for Norway and they aren’t even here.”
This is a potentially embarrassing situation for the IOC, which has received criticism for what many have seen as a light punishment after the magnitude of Russia's doping program. In discussing this developing situation, however, an IOC spokesperson only addressed it on a surface level and even turned Krushelnytsky's apprehension into a positive.
“On the one hand it is extremely disappointing when prohibited substances might have been used," said the IOC spokesperson, as reported in Reuters. "But on the other hand it shows the effectiveness of the anti-doping system at the Games which protects the rights of all the clean athletes.”
The IOC had even been publicly considering allowing the OAR delegation to march under the Russian flag wearing their national uniforms in the closing ceremonies, rather than in the drab attire that they've been forced to wear throughout the games. This was contingent, however, on the Russia athletes following the rules about neutrality and submitting to enhanced testing for doping. If Krushelnytsky is found to have failed a doping test, then that opportunity will be lost to all of his teammates.