Russians Fume as 3rd Olympian Disqualified

Just hours after the president of Russia's Olympic Committee angrily denounced the doping disqualifications of two Russian athletes from the Olympics, a third Russian athlete was bounced from the Atlanta games Tuesday.


Swimmer Andrei Korneyev and wrestler Zafar Guliyev had both already won bronze medals when they were disqualified Sunday after testing positive for bromantan, a stimulant that International Olympic Committee spokesman Michel Verdeaux said could mask the presence of anabolic steroids.


On Tuesday, a third Russian athlete, swimmer Nina Zhivanevskaya, was disqualified for using the same drug.


"I believe that someone is not happy about Russian victories, and that this is all about exerting psychological pressure on our athletes," Russian Olympic Committee president Valery Smirnov told Itar-Tass on Tuesday, adding that the Russian Olympic Committee, or OCR, did not deny that his athletes had in fact used the drug.


The OCR has filed suit on Korneyev's and Guliyev's behalf in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, an international body set up to settle doping disputes and other sports issues. The court met for 90 minutes in Atlanta on Monday, but adjourned when it was decided that medical expertise was needed to resolve the question.


The controversy over the doping cases arises from the fact that bromantan is not one of the some 11,000 drugs and drug mixtures whose use is specifically prohibited by the International Olympic Committee, or IOC.


"Though bromantan is a virtual copy of drugs specifically prohibited by the IOC, it is not itself on the list of prohibited drugs," admitted Verdeaux at an Atlanta press conference Sunday.


He said bromantan, while lacking the muscle-developing qualities of anabolic steroids, was a stimulant that could also be used to mask the presence of anabolics and was therefore inappropriate for use by Olympians. The IOC rules do contain a clause about "related substances" that have been used in the past to cover drugs not listed by name.


The disqualifications prompted a wave of angry editorials in the Russian press. Komsomolskaya Pravda, under the headline "Our Olympians Set Up Again," wrote, "we are now witnesses of yet another 'doping war' which has a distinctively anti-Russian element."


Itar-Tass wrote, "it is difficult not to agree with the opinion of the OCR president ... the disqualification violates one of the oldest principles of law, the provision against ex-post facto judgments."


Russian athletes and journalists have been widely critical of the current games, and of the games' host. The national sports daily Sport-Express last week criticized Americans for devoting too much press attention to their own athletes.


And Russian gold-medal swimmer Alexander Popov sharply criticized the American swim team Monday for intimating that Irish swimmer Michelle Smith had used steroids to win races against Americans.


"The Americans are just all upset that people are taking gold medals right out from under their noses," he said.


Although all four doping cases at the current Games have involved athletes from ex-Soviet countries (Lithuanian cyclist Rita Raznaite was also disqualified), Russia has been the target of comparatively few doping investigations in Olympic times.


According to the IOC press center in Atlanta, Tuesday night's expulsion of Zhivanevskaya was the 51st doping case since athletes began to be tested at the 1968 Olympic games. Of those 51, just four were Russians: the three this year, and runner Madina Biktagirova, who competed in Barcelona in 1992.


Smirnov said bromantan, a drug developed by the Russian military in 1994, was an immune-system strengthening substance recommended to athletes by Russian military doctors who had used it to treat cosmonauts.


But OCR medical expert Leonid Kukosh said Tuesday that bromantan did increase physical strength because it improved digestion and increased metabolism, allowing the body to heal more quickly and thus train more intensely and for longer periods of time.


"It's not a stimulant in that it doesn't affect the cardiac system, but it does add strength," he said.