Russian cross-country skier Nikolai Pankratov faces a two-year ban from competition after being caught with intravenous equipment and 22 vials of actovegin, a drug derived from calf’s blood.
Pankratov, who is not on Russian national team, had spent time training in Norway in August. He was detained at the Swiss border on Monday, according to a report by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Actovegin is not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA’s) prohibited substance list. But the director of the Russian Winter Sport Association, Sergei Korolev, told RIA Novosti that Pankratov’s possession of the drug in tandem with the intravenous equipment was grounds for a sanction—unless he could prove that he had a legitimate reason to use it.
According to the RIA Novosti report, Pankratov’s case now will go before the International Ski Federation’s (FIS’s) anti-doping panel.
“He could theoretically face a two-year disqualification,” Korolev said. “If it is proven that he took the drug for health reasons, he may escape punishment, but the probability of this is very small.”
Actovegin has been on the radar of anti-doping officials for over a decade. Some experts say it can be used to increase the effectiveness of blood doping, as well as to speed recovery from injuries, although others are more skeptical about its potential benefits. Its use is illegal in the United States.
While WADA has not banned Actovegin—even ignoring requests to do so by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in 2009—officials from the organization told the New York Times last year that they do monitor the drug closely.
Pankratov’s situation is big news for Russian skiing—its national association is already under close scrutiny by FIS, which slapped the Russians with a $154,000 fine earlier this year for a string of doping violations.
In addition to the fine, FIS made a series of recommendations to the Russians with regards to the country’s anti-doping work, threatening further sanctions if they were not followed.
While the 27-year-old Pankratov is not on the Russian national team, he has been a member in the past. A proven veteran, he has raced 98 World Cups over the course of his career—including 10 podium finishes.
Pankratov also competed in the 30 k pursuit and the relay at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, and he owns two relay medals from the World Ski Championships.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.