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Kuksenkov Likely Reprieved After WADA Announcement
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Russian national champion Nikolai Kuksenkov is expected to return to competition soon following his positive test in March for the banned substance meldonium, the Russian Gymnastics Federation announced Wednesday.

Russian national champion Nikolai Kuksenkov is expected to return to competition soon following his positive test in March for the banned substance meldonium, the Russian Gymnastics Federation announced Wednesday.

The news came after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) admitted this week that "there is currently limited data available" on how long meldonium stays in the system after use. Since the drug was placed on WADA's banned substance list on January 1, 2016, 172 athletes have tested positive, WADA President Sir Craig Reedie said. Those athletes have all been suspended pending WADA prosecution.

There has been considerable backlash over the positive tests, with suspended athletes – Kuksenkov included – insisting they had not taken meldonium in many months. The manufacturers of the medication, which has a wide variety of uses, confirmed it may remain in the system for several months. According to the Russian Gymnastics Federation, Kuksenkov last took the substance in August 2015, when it was removed from the medical supplies following WADA notification that it would be banned in January.


Meldonium, which it is used for everything from heart conditions to diabetes, is available via prescription and over the counter in Eastern Europe. It was popular among athletes, as it increases blood flow and oxygen circulation to the muscles.

WADA admitted Wednesday that its preliminary tests showed that it could take weeks or months for the drug to leave the body, allowing the possibility that athletes who tested positive "could not reasonably have known or suspected" that meldonium was still present in their systems.

"In these circumstances WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete," WADA stated. The organization stated that more research into meldonium's accurate time span in the body was ongoing.

Kuksenkov, 26, tested positive for meldonium in a March 15 test conducted by WADA in Russia. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency received a letter from WADA on April 1 that trace amounts of meldonium were detected in Kuksenkov's sample, "indicating possible usage" of the banned substance. The federation was notified that day, hours after Kuksenkov had won his first all-around national title; he was forced to withdraw from the apparatus finals at the national championships.

"It is unreasonable and unfair," Kuksenkov said after his suspension. "I consider myself an honest athlete, and the truth is on my side."

All the athletes who tested positive for meldonium have been provisionally suspended within their respective sports, but none have been officially banned or stripped of any competition results. WADA stated provisional suspensions could be lifted if the concentration of meldonium in the system was between 1 and 15 micrograms per milliliter for tests conducted before March 1, or if the level was below 1 microgram per milliliter for tests conducted after March 1. Investigations will proceed for athletes who admitted taking it on or after January 1, for concentrations between 1 and 15 micrograms per milliliter for tests conducted after March 1, or if the level was above 15 micrograms per milliliter for tests conducted at any date.

The announcement was enough to allow the Russian Gymnastics Federation to reinstate Kuksenkov. While his test was conducted after March 1, the federation is confident the "trace amount" in his system would not lead to WADA prosecution.

"While we don't have the official data on the amount of content of the substance in Nikolai's system, according to our information and expectations, Kuksenkov should be allowed to compete," said Russian team coach Valentina Rodionenko.

Meldonium, which was invented by a Latvian company in the 1970s, is very popular in Eastern Europe, where it is used for everything from heart conditions to diabetes. It is available via prescription and over the counter. It was in heavy use among elite athletes, as it increases blood flow and oxygen circulation to the muscles. Forty of the suspended athletes are Russian, including tennis superstar Maria Sharapova, world speed skating champion Pavel Kulizhnikov and world swimming champion Yulia Yefimova.

Meldonium was in use by the Russian men's team, apparently to aid muscle recovery after workout, but Russian women's team doctor Vladimir Timonkin stated in an interview this week he stopped prescribing it several years ago, as he did not see any benefits.

"Each sport has its own specific requirements and products, as well as its supplements," Timonkin said. "And the team doctor at the end of the year writes the annual application (to the Federal Biomedical Agency) of necessary drugs for his own team next year, for absolutely all cases: dietary supplements, antibiotics, antihistamines, any group. There was a time when we used it. But then we all agreed that the team should stop using it, not because I had some particular insight. It just made sense to me to cancel it. Opinions on preparations develop over the years, and observations occur. And when you start to write the annual application, you ask the question – do you really need this drug? Is it effective or not? I personally said no."

Kuksenkov has been a key part of the Russian team since 2013. He moved to Russia following the 2012 Olympic Games, his last competition for his native Ukraine. The Russian men are preparing for next month's European championships in Bern, where they are the defending team champions, and this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where they will be team medal contenders. Russia finished fourth at last fall's world championships.

Update: On Friday, April 15, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency notified the Russian Gymnastics Federation that it had officially lifted Kuksenkov's suspension, formally allowing him to return to competition.

External Link: WADA statement on meldonium and official meldonium notice

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