The International Biathlon Union (IBU) announced on Thursday an adverse analytical finding for an athlete who is now provisionally suspended.
The athlete has not been named, but the IBU did provide information about the nature of the infraction. The substance detected in the athlete’s sample is one that was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s 2016 Prohibited List and was not previously banned.
“The suspension is mandatory, as the substance is defined under hormones and metabolic modulators and it is new on the WADA prohibited list as of 1 January 2016,” the IBU wrote in its press release. “It was detected by the IBU during an IBU [World Cup] in January.”
Two sets of substances fall under that category in this year’s update to the Prohibited List: insulin-mimetics and meldonium (also called mildronate).
Insulin mimetics are substances which act like insulin (that is, mimic it) by activating glucose transporters. This makes them useful to diabetics to control blood sugar, but a key feature of insulin mimetics is that they typically do not increase fat stores.
Insulin has been used as a performance-enhancing drug in the past, in particular in the bodybuilding community, because it promotes glycogen storage. This has even led bodybuilders to be hospitalized for low blood glucose levels.
Meanwhile, a 2015 paper in Drug Testing and Analysis announcing a new assay for detecting mildronate noted that is use as a performance-enhancing substance was on the rise.
Mildronate was developed in Latvia in the 1970’s as a growth-promoting hormone for animals. It has been noted on doping control forms of athletes in the past, as well as detected in samples before being banned.
The study noted:
“Further studies demonstrated an increase in endurance performance of athletes, improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress, and enhanced activations of central nervous system (CNS) functions. Moreover, Mildronate shows mood-improving effects as well as an increased learning and memory performance, which are properties athletes may also benefit from. In dubious online shops, the performance-enhancing effects of Mildronate are advertised overtly. Additionally, Mildronate-containing products can also be obtained from well-known online auction platforms as an over-the-counter (OTC) drug, which give easy access to the drug worldwide.”
If mildronate turns out to be the substance detected in the athlete’s sample, it may be the first positive test of the drug in any sport since it was added to the Prohibited List.
As for the athlete in question? It is not unusual for the IBU to keep athletes’ identity protected during the provisional suspension process, which is ongoing.
In the press release, the IBU noted that the athlete may either request the opening of their “B” sample or waive it. If the “B” sample also tests positive, then anti-doping hearing panel proceedings will be initiated; if not, the provisional suspension will be lifted.
And while it is sometimes more straightforward to try to look at start lists for hints of who might be facing a suspension from competition, a number of athletes are skipping the North American swing of the World Cup which started today in Canmore, making speculation particularly difficult and irresponsible.
In an unusual move, the IBU placed more emphasis on the athlete’s potential innocence than the federation has in previous anti-doping announcements.
“In order to protect athlete’s personal right to confidentiality and the integrity of the results management process, the IBU will at this stage not release the name or nationality of the athlete,” the IBU wrote in their press release, later adding, “At the moment this is not considered a positive doping case. Further relevant information will be released once the process reaches its conclusion.”
For instance, when Irina Starykh and Ekaterina Iourieva of Russia and Karolis Zlatkauskas of Lithuania had adverse analytical findings of EPO in their “A” samples in January 2014, the IBU included in their press release the privacy clause, but not the assertion that these were not positive doping cases.
Likewise when adverse analytical findings from the IBU’s re-testing of stored samples were announced in December 2014, the IBU withheld the names to two athletes and wrote only that “The details with regard to the two latter cases will be communicated as soon as this is legally possible.”
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.