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Estonian cyclist fails doping test

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PHOTO: Sander Maasing

There’s just one culprit to professional bicyclist Peeter Pruus getting caught using trimetazidine – banned starting this year – thundered Estonian sports physician Mihkel Mardna: Estonian Anti-Doping Agency (EAD).

«A sportsman is not obliged to yearly check to see whatever has changed in the doping lists. He may not understand which medicine is now prohibited. Anti-Doping’s direct responsibility is informing sports federations of such changes; and this, regrettably, has been neglected,» said Dr Mardna. Anti-Doping Agency, however, thinks a sportsman and his physician bear the responsibility.

Last week, Mr Pruus, cycling for the Latvian club Rietumu-Delfin and a recent bronze medalist at Estonian championship in tempo ride, was shocked at getting a letter from international cycling federation UCI clearly and curtly stating his doping showed the banned substance trimetazidine. Mr Pruus simply did not know that the substance he’d used for three years was doping, as of 2014.

As advised by doctors, Mr Pruus used the heart strengthening Preductal – which contains trimetazidine – during heavy training. At every doping test, he diligently wrote down all drugs taken, including Preductal. No exception this time, at a Slovakia race.

The greater the shock upon receiving UCI letter. Turns out, trimetazidine is in the banned substance list as of this year, but with a clause – not to be used during competitions, but allowed at training periods.

The same night, Mr Pruus wrote UCI back, asking for forgiveness and explaining what had happened. Never asking for B-test to be opened, he confessed his guilt and terminated his cyclist licence i.e. gave up competing even though not so required by UCI.

Mere warning, perhaps

Soon, disciplinary committee will gather at UCI, to see about Mr Pruus and determining its sanctions. Perhaps, there won’t be any punishments, just a warning, this clearly being an accidental case with a cyclist admitting his guilt and the substance only being banned recently. At the same time, UCI may ask Estonian federation to impose a penalty.

Estonian Cyclists Union secretary general Urmas Karlson was unable to comment, the case being so fresh: «There’s two sides to it. On the one hand, the sportsman erred, used a substance unknowingly, confessed, and is open about it.»

«On the other hand, again,» continued Mr Karlson: «If we won’t impose a punishment, what will the message be, to the others sportsmen? Mr Pruus’ mistake was not checking the new doping list – something that needs to be done. I don’t think we are talking about a two year ban; I think the ban ought to be a couple of months.»

Dr Mardna, head of Sports Medicine Foundation, isn’t that optimistic. He recalls the Ukrainian cross-country skier Marina Lisogor getting caught with the same substance at Sochi Olympics; in spite of everything – the doping being «new» and the use random – still a two-year competition ban was imposed.

Why is it banned?

«Neither I nor any other Estonian sports physician I have talked to understands why trimetazidine was banned, but I accept World Anti-Doping Agency decision,» said Dr Mardna. «Preductal, the trimetazidine-containing medicine that for years I have prescribed to sportsmen, is an ordinary heart vitamin. The same as Panangin. Consequently, this should also be banned, as vitamin C as well.»

Dr Mardna admitted it was stupid the way Mr Pruus got caught, but he is not accusing the sportsman: «Easy to say: read for yourself about changes in the banned substance list; but the sportsmen may not understand or know what active substances certain medicines may contain. With each change, it is Estonian Anti-Doping Agency’s task to inform the federations and via these the sportsmen, specifying the medicines containing the new doping substances. An athlete needs to do his job, and Estonian Anti-Doping Agency needs to do his. But the latter didn’t.»

Estonian Anti-Doping Agency: responsibility lies with sportsman

«As crisis hits, it is not right to apply new interpretation to rules and change meaning thereof at half distance,» Kristjan Port, board member of Estonian Anti-Doping Agency said in answer to accusations by sports physician Mihkel Mardna. «Responsibility for selection and use of medicines and food supplements likely to contain medicines or banned substances lies with sportsmen.»

According to Mr Port, ignorance of status of a medicine while using it will not remove guilt from a sportsman, neither will it pass the guilt on anyone else. «As a rule, sportsmen have specialists close to them who are supposed to possess relevant knowledge, as well as updated info on the banned substance list. Before a medicine is prescribed, a sportsman is to inform doctor of his status; the doctor is obliged to see that the medicine infringes not the anti-doping rulebook. In case of need, a doctor and pharmacist may consult Estonian Anti-Doping Agency.

The above responsibility chain has been officially in place for the last ten years. Both the international and national organisations cooperate with all interested parties and do their best to help spread the information.

The incident with our cyclist offers many a lesson. We have to do with a medicine under huge media attention due to the Ukrainian skier Marina Lisogor case, punished at winter Olympics. After that, Estonian Anti-Doping Agency consulted with several sportsmen and coaches. Informing local sports federations of banned substance updates would hardly solve the problem – they do have the information already.»

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