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Russians Request Kuksenkov's Doping Sample from Stuttgart
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The Russians will formally request national champion Nikolai Kuksenkov's doping sample from the recent World Cup in Stuttgart following his positive test for meldonium, the federation stated Sunday. Pictured: Kuksenkov performs in Stuttgart on March 20.

The Russians will formally request national champion Nikolai Kuksenkov's doping sample from the recent World Cup in Stuttgart following his positive test for meldonium, while Kuksenkov has spoken out about his positive test.

Kuksenkov was provisionnally suspended from the Russian national team on Friday after it was revealed he tested positive for minute traces of the banned substance in a random doping test on March 15. On March 20, he won the bronze medal at the FIG World Cup in Stuttgart, Germany.

"Kolya's a responsible guy," Russian coach Valentina Rodionenko told news agency F-Sport. "He'll never take an extra tablet. He's shocked."

If Kuksenkov is handed a more severe punishment, it would be a major blow to the Russian men, who are contenders for a team medal this summer at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Russia finished fourth at the 2015 World Championships.

Positive doping tests are highly rare in gymnastics and are mainly limited to cases of gymnasts using the masking agent furosemide to shed water weight, as well as a few who have tested positive for recreational drugs. Gymnastics' only real doping scandal to date was Romania's Andreea Raducan's positive test for pseudoephedrine at the 2000 Olympic Games, which she ingested via cold medicine. She was stripped of her all-around gold medal. (Pseudoephedrine is no longer on the banned list.)

On Friday, Kuksenkov won the all-around title in Penza, his first Russian all-around title. The Kiev native moved to Russia following the 2012 Olympics in London, where he finished fourth with the Ukrainian team. The letter announcing his positive results from the March 15th test arrived after his all-around result, and he was forced to withdraw from the Russian championships.

Meldonium, invented in the 1970s by a Latvian company, is a popular medication in Eastern Europe, where it is prescribed for a multitude of diseases and as a preventative medicine. It first appeared on the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list on January 1, 2016. The drug has a half-life of about six hours, but according to its manufacturer, it can conceivably take up to months for all traces of the drug to leave the system. By mid-March 2016, more than 120 athletes have tested positive for meldonium, with many insisting they had not taken it in months.

Kuksenkov told Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets (MK) that the standard practice for the national team is to take three to four supplements daily after workout, supplied by the team physician. Gymnasts are forbidden from taking anything on their own.

"We are strictly forbidden from buying medicine at the pharmacy, even if someone is sick!" he said. "Because two sprays for the nose or throat can be quite different: one has banned components, the other is OK. Everything goes through the team doctor."

Kuksenkov told MK he did not notice any particular benefits to meldonium since he has stopped taking it.

"[It has] no tangible benefits," Kuksenkov said. "Perhaps it somehow acts on the heart muscle, but you know that we rarely have a problem of doping in gymnastics in general. It's a complicated, highly coordinated sport where precision in movement is important, which no kind of doping will help!"

Kuksenkov, who turns 27 in June, expressed his frustration over the situation.

"The low concentration of the drug in my sample can easily determine that I did not take it in a long time," Kuksenkov said. "So we talk about the traces [of the drug]. But these are old traces. Everyone knows that meldonium stays about two years. And even those who last took it a year ago, it will pop up! It is unreasonable and unfair. I consider myself an honest athlete, and the truth is on my side. Hopefully, the Russian Gymnastics Federation will support me."

Rodionenko said she is also frustrated and is worried people will jump to conclusions and assume Kuksenkov is guilty of doping.

"This is a misunderstanding," Rodionenko said. "This hasn't just affected us. I think that there will be people jumping to conclusions about this story. Now we don't know what to expect after the story — it's kind of savagery. Our guys are hurting, are getting ready, don't take anything illegally.... Moreover, it's a drug that is generally difficult to understand why it's appeared on the doping list in the first place."

External Link: Russian Gymnastics Federation

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