Ukrainian biathlete Sergui Sednev has been issued a provisional suspension after a sample collected January 22, 2013, was re-tested using a new analytical method and detected EPO. Sednev has declined to have his “B” sample opened.
Sednev is a two-time Olympian (2010 and 2014) who finished 10th in the pursuit in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, but scored just nine individual World Cup points last season.
The positive test comes as part of an effort to re-test suspicious samples from previous seasons using a newly-available analytical method. It already snared Russia’s Alexander Loginov at the beginning of the season; he was suspended in November for a sample that had been collected almost exactly a year earlier.
IBU President Anders Besserberg told Norway’s NRK broadcaster that at this point, all of the stored samples have been retested. That does not necessarily mean more bans will not be announced; there was a one-month lag between the analytical result for Sednev’s doping offense, and the announcement of his suspension. Many in the biathlon community are speculating that more suspensions may be on the way.
After all, Besseberg had told Norwegian media that doping suspensions from multiple countries were on their way. Technically, this promise has been fulfilled: Russian and Ukrainian athletes have now been issued provisional suspensions. But the buildup in the media after that interview left many fans wondering whether bigger names would be involved, and waiting for bombshell revelations.
The positive test unfortunately does nothing to clarify whether Sednev was doping throughout his career, or only at the end of it – as appeared to be the case for Finnish skier Tero Similä, a former World Cup skier who at age 34 had slid back to the middle of the Continental Cup results pages. Similä was caught using EPO at Finnish National Championships in 2014, where he had a stunning third-place result in the 10 k classic, likely in an attempt to make the Olympic team.
When 30-year-old Sednev started the 20 k individual at the first World Cup weekend in Östersund, Sweden, this season, it marked the start of his 11th year on the World Cup. He finished 83rd with the 90th-fastest course time. Instead it was his teammate Sergey Semenov who stood on the podium, finishing second behind Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway.
Sednev did not compete again on the World Cup, nor did he appear at second-tier IBU Cup races. His Ukraine teammates continued to earn podiums in World Cup and IBU Cup racing.
But earlier in his career, Sednev had seen considerable success. In January 2010 he won a 20 k individual World Cup competition in Antholz, Italy, and had a dozen top-tens including three other podiums. His best more recent result was back in Antholz, where he finished eighth in the 12.5 k pursuit in January 2013.
Sednev was also part of three World Cup podium relay teams, as well as the bronze-medal men’s relay from 2011 World Championships in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
At that same World Championships, the women’s team won silver in the relay. That medal was taken away when Oksana Khvostenko tested positive for the banned stimulant ephedrine, which she said that she accidentally ingested through cough medicine.
Sednev’s provisional suspension was dated December 15th of 2014; he announced his retirement on December 19th, although nobody made the connection at the time because a name had not been released with the suspension and Sednev was hardly a force to be noticed on the circuit.
Should his provisional ban be made permanent after his hearing with the IBU Anti-Doping Hearing Panel, all results from after the sample was collected in January 2013 would be scrubbed from the record. That includes two World Cup relays, a tenth- and an eleventh-place effort, and participation in the ninth-place mixed relay and the 14th-place men’s relay at 2013 World Championships.
The Biathlon Federation of Ukraine, in their announcement of Sednev’s positive test, implied that he had decided to retire independently, and that was the reason that he did not request to have his “B” sample opened (which would have cost 2,500 Euros): “But as Sednev had finished his career [sic] after the poor results over the past seasons, he decided not to conduct the further analysis,” the federation noted.
Along with Sednev’s test, four other positive samples were noted in the IBU press release. None of the names were new to followers of the sport: Russia’s Alexander Loginov was issued a provisional suspension at the end of November, the first of the re-testing results to be released, and at the same time it was made known that Russian teammates Irina Starykh and Ekaterina Iourieva had also had old samples show positive tests. Those two were already serving doping bans for EPO, which had been announced in January before the 2014 Olympics; the new results proved that they had certainly doped on more than one occasion.
That troubles IBU President Anders Besseberg, who told Norway’s VG news service that the federation might pursue action against the Russian federation.
“Personally I will be very surprised if the Executive Board of the IBU does not want to impose a penalty on Russia’s biathlon federation, given that all three are convicted,” he said, according to a translation. “We have the opportunity to give penance and simultaneously claim to cover legal costs…”
Reportedly, bylaws allow a federation to be fined as much as roughly $250,000 if more than one athlete has a positive test within a 12-month period.
Besseberg linked the four cases through the old Soviet Union.
“This is special because we have three athletes from one nation,” he told VG. “And one cannot hide the fact that 80 to 90 percent of positive doping tests in biathlon are from nations that previously belonged to the Soviet Union. There has been a culture there for so long and such culture one cannot reverse overnight.”
The positive tests are not surprising to German journalist Hajo Seppelt, whose documentaries aired this fall on ZDF and revealed widespread systematic doping and cover-ups in Russian sport, as well as in track and field more generally. He has repeatedly called on the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee to thoroughly investigate his findings. In a recent interview with Germany’s ARD news service, he noted that IOC President Thomas Bach was in Oberhof this weekend at the biathlon World Cup – but neither Bach nor the IBU took this opportunity to jointly speak about biathlon’s doping problem.
“The question is now out there, whether the IBU is transparent and publicly declares the magnitude to which they can retrospectively analyze which substances,” he said. “Or if you pass statutes of limitations- then, the impression arises that one is not interested in negative publicity, and therefore prefers not too look too hard. The IOC is in this respect a sad example: it takes a billion dollars through television rights, so it would have enough money to retrospectively examine a large number of frozen doping samples again. Why it doesn’t it try to subject all samples to a major retest?”
In this respect, the IBU does appear to be far ahead of its peer federations. Besseberg explained to VG that the federation had held onto samples which, using its blood passport program, seemed suspicious. Then, when new methods were available, they re-tested all the samples.
“I am pleased that we have such a good system, that we manage to weed out those who should not be included in the competitions, and that we protect the clean athletes,” he said.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.