Demonising Justin Gatlin
13th September 2015
An arm of Russia’s Federal Medical & Biological Agency (FMBA) is working with sport to optimise the performance of Russian athletes, it has emerged. Yulia Miroshnikova, head of the Scientific Research Institute of Physical-Chemical Medicine (SRI PCM) of the FMBA, told Russian State news agency, TASS, that it has decided to give the country’s athletes L-Carnitine instead of meldonium, which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List in 2016.
Interestingly, only the Russian version of the ‘about us’ section of the SRI PCM FMBA website mentions that one of its goals is to assist ‘the athletes of the Russian national teams’. The English version does not.
Earlier this week, the National Anti-Doping Plan (NADP) issued by Russia’s Independent Public Anti-Doping Commission (IPADC) reasserted the country’s claim that historical Russian doping was not institutional. Whilst the SRI PCM FMBA’s role in Russian sport doesn’t prove that doping was institutionalised, it does show a level of institutional control over what substances are to be administered to assist Russia’s athletes. It also makes a mockery of Fancy Bears’ assertions that Russia has been hard done by since other countries are utilising therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) as a form of legitimate cheating, as it appears that the RCPCM has also been conducting its own search for substances that could benefit athlete performance.
Unlike meldonium, L-Carnitine is not prohibited in sport, unless over 50 millilitres of the substance are administered in a six-hour period. Interestingly, online pharmacies selling meldonium often advise combining it with L-Carnitine to optimise sporting performance.
L-carnitine is a naturally-occurring substance that metabolises fat within the human body, however in 2011 a study found that its oral ingestion could help improve athletic performance. The authors of that study produced NutraMet Sport, an oral supplement that claimed to result in a ‘10% improvement in work output’ during a 30 minute time-trial’. Farah and Rupp both admitted to using L-carnitine orally in 2015.
At a UK Parliament Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee hearing in April, UK Athletics’ Dr. Robin Chakraverty admitted injecting Mo Farah with the substance prior to the 2014 London Marathon, for performance-enhancing reasons. L-Carnitine also featured heavily in a 270-page report produced by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) into the methods used at the Nike Oregon Project to improve athlete performance.
Meldonium was added to the 2016 Prohibited List, following research commissioned by the Partnership for Clean Competition (PCC), which found evidence of its misuse in sport. The substance is manufactured by Latvian company Grindeks under the brand name ‘mildronate’ for use almost exclusively in eastern Europe – specifically in Russia, where it is available over the counter. However, its brand name still doesn’t feature on the 2017 version of the Prohibited List, which is not available in Russian cyrillic script.
Given that meldonium is largely used in Russia and WADA’s failed to provide information on its addition to its Prohibited List in Russian, it is perhaps unsurprising that so many Russian athletes tested positive for the substance during 2016. By utilising a substance that has an international profile (L-carnitine) rather than one that is only available in Russia (meldonium), it could be argued that Russian athletes will be protected from being targeted in such a way again.
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