CESANA, Italy - Russian biathlon star Olga Pyleva was thrown out of the Turin Games and stripped of her silver medal Thursday for doping, the first athlete caught in the tightest drug net in Winter Olympics history.
Pyleva was favored heading into Thursday’s 7.5km sprint to win her second medal of the games. As athletes were walking up to the starting line, an announcer told the crowd that Pyleva was scratched because she had fallen ill.
But it didn’t take long for news of the real reason to spread. A urine sample Pyleva submitted after the 15km event on Monday tested positive for the stimulant carphedon, which she said was in an over-the-counter medication she’d taken.
“Oh my goodness!” American biathlete Rachel Steer said. “I just noticed they said she was sick, and I saw her last night — and she didn’t look like she was getting sick.”
In Pyleva’s absence at the sprint, there was another shock: Florence Baverel-Robert took the gold. The Frenchwoman, competing in her final Olympics, never had won a major competition in the event that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting.
An IOC panel was hastily convened to hear Pyleva’s case. Less than two hours after the race went on without her, she was kicked out of the Turin Games.
“It’s a shocking situation,” Pyleva told Russia’s state-run First Channel, “because I’ve always been against using banned medications.”
Russian officials at the Olympics were equally quick with an explanation: A doctor who treated Pyleva in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk for an ankle injury in January gave her an over-the-counter medication that did not list carphedon as one of its ingredients, said Dr. Nikolai Durmanov, head of the Russian Anti-Doping Committee.
“This was 100 percent the physician’s mistake,” Durmanov told The Associated Press.
Pyleva told First Channel: “I’ve been working with this doctor and I trust her a lot, in fact. And what’s happened now is just monstrous stupidity.”
Durmanov said he met with Pyleva after she was told of the failed test. Asked how she was feeling, he said: “It is better not to talk about it. She is in a very bad condition.”
Under the IOC’s rules, athletes testing positive at the Olympics are considered guilty if a banned substance is found, regardless of the circumstances. Durmanov said no appeal was planned at this time.
“It’s a catastrophe for us,” he said. “We are not going to start some special process, no appeals so far. ... Her brilliant career has been finished in such a dramatic way without her being guilty.”
Further possible sanctions against Pyleva — such as a long-term ban from competition — are up to the International Biathlon Union.
“I think it’s a great pity for the sport,” Baverel-Robert said of Pyleva’s drug test, “but that’s as far as my thoughts on the matter really go.”
The 30-year-old Pyleva is one of the biggest stars in biathlon, which typically draws more than 30,000 spectators to World Cup events and is Europe’s most popular televised winter sport. She also won gold and bronze medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
The silver she won Monday now goes to Germany’s Martina Glagow. The bronze falls to Albina Akhatova, Pyleva’s Russian teammate, who also took fourth in Thursday’s event.
Members of the Russian biathlon team did not speak to reporters after Thursday’s race, but Akhatova told the European sports cable channel Eurosport that she is “not glad” about receiving the bronze.
“I cannot say that I am happy because it is not a good medal for me,” Akhatova told the network. “I think that this is terrible, firstly for Olga, because she is not feeling so well, for the girls in our team, and of course for the coach.”
The head of Russia’s biathlon federation, Alexander Tikhonov, said athletes have been told repeatedly only to use medications approved by team doctors.