Russia is set to lose a biathlon gold medal from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics following a new doping ban for a leading athlete.
The International Biathlon Union on Saturday announced a two-year ban for Evgeny Ustyugov, who was part of the gold medal-winning men's relay team six years ago, citing evidence he used the banned steroid oxandrolone around the time of the Olympics.
His results from the 2013-14 season have been disqualified, including the Olympic victory.
When confirmed by the International Olympic Committee, it will knock Russia off top spot in the Sochi medal table in terms of golds. The host nation would have 10 golds, against 11 for Norway, and 28 total medals, the joint-most along with the United States.
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Germany is in line to inherit the relay gold, subject to IOC confirmation.
Ustyugov, who is also facing another anti-doping charge on another matter, denies any wrongdoing and suggested the IBU was unfairly targeting him with a series of investigations.
“I'm no longer surprised. An outrage is an outrage,” he told the Russian state news agency Tass. “Time will show who is right.”
The Salzburg-based IBU also announced a similar two-year sanction for Svetlana Sleptsova, a Russian who didn't win any medals at Sochi, over the banned substance ostarine.
The cases are based on disputed data from the Moscow anti-doping laboratory.
The computer files were obtained last year by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which has since said it considers some of the data to have been tampered with to cover up doping. WADA has banned Russia's name and flag from the 2020 Olympics as a consequence.
A WADA panel said in November that attempts were made to delete files in two biathlon cases whose details appear to match those of Ustyugov and Sleptsova, but that computer experts recovered the files.
Russia denies manipulating the data. Russian officials and people involved in Russia's own investigation of the data have previously said files could have been changed remotely or could have been corrupted by unstable software.
WADA said Saturday it couldn't discuss the lab data's role in the cases.
“We note the decision and point out WADA Intelligence and Investigations Dept’s involvement in the case but we cannot comment at this stage while the appeal window is still open,” WADA spokesman James Fitzgerald told The Associated Press in an e-mailed statement.
Any appeal by Ustyugov is likely to focus on whether the data can be considered reliable evidence. Even if he wins an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, he could still face a ban in a separate doping case.
The Biathlon Integrity Unit, a new anti-doping arm of the IBU, said Thursday it charged Ustyugov with a doping violation based on unusual data in blood samples he gave between Jan. 2010 and Feb. 2014. That could potentially threaten his gold medal in mass start and relay bronze from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
The Russian Sports Ministry said Saturday it had removed Ustyugov from his role as chief umpire of a national youth sports festival. The ministry added it expects more disciplinary cases based on the data.
“The Russian Federation Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin expressed confidence that, regardless of the results of all the investigations, Russia is ready to turn the page of its sports history which has been clouded by the doping scandals of recent years," the ministry said in a statement.
The IOC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ban for Ustyugov was announced on the same day that Latvian bobsledders received belated gold medals from the Sochi Olympics.
The four-man team piloted by Oskars Melbardis was earlier awarded the gold after a Russian squad was disqualified following doping investigations. The ceremony was timed to coincide with the European bobsled championships, which are taking place in Latvia.
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