BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Reuters) - U.S. Olympic athletes expressed little sympathy for tennis star Maria Sharapova’s revelation that she failed a drug test, saying they wanted sporting officials to raise the pressure for clean play.
Several athletes also expressed concern about reports that doping remains rampant in Russia and that lax compliance in other countries could mean the Aug. 5-21 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will be plagued by doping.
The steady drip of doping news was a particular source of frustration since U.S. athletes face such a constant barrage of tests that some avoid taking over-the-counter cold medicine.
“I don’t even like to take multi-vitamins I‘m so nervous,” said Kayla Harrison, 25, who won a gold medal in judo at the 2012 London Olympics and hopes to defend her title in Rio.
“There are so many things on that list that you don’t even think ... you can’t take Benadryl in competition,” Harrison said. “It scares the crap out of me because the last thing I want is a bad test to tarnish my chances, ruin my reputation. So for me it is never worth the risk.”
The world’s highest-paid female athlete, Sharapova on Tuesday was already feeling the consequences of testing positive for a drug that the World Anti-Doping Agency banned on Jan. 1.
Sponsors including Nike Inc (NKE.N) and Porsche moved quickly to sever ties with her. The test could also cost her a spot at Rio, though the head of the Russian Tennis Federation said she should be allowed to compete. [ID:nL5N16G3S3]
Sharapova, 28, said her family doctor had been giving her the drug, mildronate, for a decade before WADA banned it.
But athletes attending a U.S. Olympic Committee event in Beverly Hills, California, had no sympathy for Sharapova’s failing to notice the new ban on the drug.
“As an athlete it is your responsibility to always know what’s being placed on the banned list. Period,” said Aries Merritt, a 30-year-old who won a gold medal in the hurdles in 2012 and is staging a remarkable comeback after undergoing a kidney transplant in September. “There is no excuse.”
‘NOT COMPLETELY CONFIDENT’
A German TV documentary this weekend reported that Russian coaches who had previously been suspended for doping were still working in athletics, while others continued to provide banned substances to athletes.
Russia has been banned from international track and field in the wake of a report exposing widespread cheating and corruption but have been scrambling to prove they have cleaned up and should be allowed to compete in Rio.
WADA in November accused Russia’s anti-doping agency of conspiring with coaches and officials to cover up the use of banned substances by its athletes. No decision has been made on whether the Russian athletics team can compete in Rio.
Russia’s sports minister has dismissed the report, calling ARD’s reporting misleading. [ID:nL4N16F4RX]
The string of doping revelations and allegations left some U.S. athletes wondering if all competition at the Rio Games can be clean.
“I‘m not completely confident,” said Alysia Montano, who was fifth in the 800 meters at the 2012 Olympics, behind two Russian runners whom anti-doping officials have since said should be sanctioned for using banned substances. “I‘m still really wary.”
Montano, 29, said she was “flabbergasted” at news this week that Kenya, a running powerhouse whose athletes won 11 medals at the 2012 Games, did not possess a laboratory compliant with WADA standards where its athletes could be tested for use of banned performance-enhancing drugs.
WADA and the International Olympic Committee have warned Kenya that if the country’s anti-doping protocols are not in line with international standards by April, the country’s athletics team may not be eligible for Rio. [ID:nL3N15X4A4]
“As a clean athlete it is very frustrating getting on the line and knowing this may not be a fair race,” said U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix, a four-time Olympic gold medallist who is aiming for more medals in Rio.
U.S. athletes also grumbled that they would like to see their international counterparts face the same level of discipline they do for doping violations.
“If one of the U.S. Olympic athletes tests positive, then we’re going to be banned for a few years,” said swimmer Conor Dwyer, a gold medallist at London 2012. “That hasn’t been the case with athletes that have failed tests in different countries.”
Ryan Lochte, the 11-time Olympic medallist swimmer, said he wasn’t going to let the concerns distract him.
“Test me as much as you want,” Lochte said. “Just don’t do it during swim practice.”
Additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Frank Pingue