Russian figure skating star Kamila Valieva tested positive for a banned drug before the Winter Olympics in Beijing, two Russian newspapers say.
The reports, late on Wednesday, came after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) postponed a ceremony to present the 15-year-old skater and her teammates with their Olympic gold medals.
They cited unexplained legal reasons.
Newspapers RBC and Kommersant said Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine before she won the European championship in Estonia last month. The drug is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency because it can increase blood flow efficiency and help endurance.
The alleged positive test could cost Russia the team gold and also threaten Valieva’s participation in the individual event that starts next week. The teenager is a strong favourite in the competition.
The IOC declined to comment on Thursday.
Mark Adams, the group’s spokesman, told reporters that an “active legal case” was under way concerning the medal ceremony and that claims of a failed drug test were “speculation”.
“We had a situation arise yesterday that has all sorts of implications,” he said. “I’m not … going to comment on a legal case because it wouldn’t be appropriate.”
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) also declined to comment on reports that Valieva had returned a positive test.
The teenager delivered one of the highlights of the Beijing Games so far when she landed the first quadruple jump by a woman in Olympic competition.
Any move to penalise Valieva or strip the team of their medals would probably cause a national outcry as figure skating is a prestige sport for Russia.
‘Leave Kamila in peace’
Prominent journalist Vasily Konov, deputy general producer at Russian sports channel Match-TV, said without citing sources that the sample in question had been taken two months ago.
“The drug trimetazidine does not help an athlete in any way. At all. It was found in one single sample in December. A minuscule amount. Nothing in her samples before or since,” he wrote on social media.
“There is no doping in the conventional sense. No! This cardiac drug has no impact on … performance. Now leave Kamila in peace.”
Dr Sadiya Khan, a cardiologist and assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told Reuters news agency that in theory trimetazidine might be used in a healthy person to enhance blood flow above and beyond normal levels.
“The idea behind it would be, potentially, if you enhance blood flow, you could improve somebody’s ability to exercise longer or exercise more efficiently by allowing the heart to respond super-normally,” she said.
But she said it is not clear if the drug offers any performance-enhancing benefit.
“There’s a theoretical benefit,” she said. “There’s no strong evidence that it does make a difference.”
Former Russian pairs skater Tatiana Volosozhar, who won two gold medals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, showed her solidarity with Valieva on social media, calling for the use of the Russian hashtag #Iwillneverbelieve to show support to the teenager.
Her post was “liked” on Instagram by Valieva.
If the Russian team is disqualified, the United States team would be elevated to the gold medal for the first time in the event. Japan would be awarded silver and fourth-place finisher Canada would receive the bronze.
Russian athletes are in Beijing competing as the “Russian Olympic Committee” after the country was banned because of a massive state-sponsored doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Russia has acknowledged some shortcomings in its implementation of anti-doping rules but denies running a doping programme.