After the puzzling announcement that world record-holder Denis Pankratov would not be travelling to Perth for the World Championships in January, the Russian National Team has been further whittled down by the positive drug tests of three of their top-level Russian swimmers.
Another serious blow indeed. The swimmers, European champions Natalia Mesheryakova, Vladimir Pyshnenko, and European championship silver medallist Olga Kochetkova, reportedly tested positive for the anabolic steroid mentandienone and also a masking agent (Pyshnenko) during a training camp in Cyprus in October. The tests were conducted and announced by the Russian Olympic Committee.
All three swimmers, coached in Samara by Andrei Zelenyaev, were subsequently removed from the national team and the president of the Russian Federation, Gennadi Aleshin, confirmed that they will not travel to Perth. Zelenyaev has subsequently lodged a protest and a mysterious settling of scores is in the air. According to German sources (DPA) he disputed the positive tests as a "provocation," saying that his swimmers received the banned substances unknowingly in a cake brought to them by a former pupil of his.
The positives have put the Russian Federation in a risky position; according to FINA rules, if four swimmers from one country test positive within a 12-month period, that country's federation can be suspended from international competition for up to four years. Another slip-up could bar sprint star Alexander Popov, who wears Russian colours despite being an Australian resident, from competing internationally. The high profile Mesheryakova won the 50 freestyle in Sevilla in August, while her husband, Pyshnenko, was part of the gold medal-winning 4x100 freestyle relay.
When two Russian swimmers, Andrei Korneev and Nina Zhivanevskaya, tested positive for the stimulant Bromantan at the Atlanta Olympics, they were let off because the too recently identified substance had not yet made it onto the official IOC list of banned drugs. If there is truth to the rumours, someone decided, for whatever reason, that three Russians would test positive, proof that the testing can be efficient when it wants to be.
As SWIMNEWS goes to print FINA has turned down the appeals of the three Russians and suspended them for two years, effective October 18.
Alexei Kolesnikov was suspended for three months, effective Januray 1, for taking cannabis.
Ukrainian swimmer Olena Lapunova was provisionally suspended, pending a hearing for taking a steroid (mentandienone).