By Steve Keating
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – Of all the questions surrounding reports of a Russian curler’s alleged doping infraction at the Pyeongchang Olympics the biggest is; why?
Why would an athlete in one of the Winter Games’ least taxing and physically demanding sports feel it necessary to use performance-enhancing drugs?
Even curlers taking part in the Olympic competition were left scratching their heads on Monday as news circulated that Alexander Krushelnitsky, who won a bronze medal in the mixed doubles with his wife Anastasia Bryzgalova, is suspected of testing positive for meldonium, a banned substance that increases blood flow, improves exercise capacity and is favored by endurance athletes.
Meldonium was banned in 2016 and led to Russian tennis player and former world number one Maria Sharapova being barred from competition for 15 months.
“I think most people will laugh and ask, ‘what could you possibly need doping for?’, as I am thinking,” said Madeleine Dupont, skip for the Denmark rink. “I’m not even sure what use doping would be for in curling.
“There is probably something with strength, I’m not sure, it’s not down my alley.”
Curlers are more likely to accused of being out of shape than taking drugs to improve their strength or power.
Since becoming part of the Olympic program at the 1998 Nagano Games, curling has worked hard to shed its image as a game played on weekends by unfit men and women.
When Homer Simpson, the donut-eating, beer-guzzling cartoon character, went to the Olympics it was as a curler.
Curlers going for gold in Pyeongchang are far more athletic than they were at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games when Canadian skip Eddie “the Wrench” Werenich was told by the Canadian Curling Association to lose a few pounds so as not to embarrass the country and the Olympics.
But even on the ice in Pyeongchang spectators are as likely to see Olympic medalists with a hint of middle age spread as much as muscle bound sweepers.
“For me it’s tough to see doping in curling. Maybe as a brusher, but come on, hit the gym you know,” Norwegian skip and Olympic 2010 silver medalist Thomas Ulsrud told Reuters.
Even Krushelnitsky’s own Olympic Athletes from Russia team mates were at a loss to understand why a curler would need to dope or how they could, with Russia under the drugs spotlight after being accused of running a state-backed, systematic doping program for years.
As a result, its athletes are competing at Pyeongchang as neutral “Olympic Athletes from Russia” (OAR) and on a bond of good behavior before it is decided whether they can march under their own flag at the closing ceremony.
“We’ve always said how great it is that we have a sport where scandals don’t happen because we really don’t need it,” said Viktoria Moiseeva, skip of the Olympic Athletes from Russia women’s team. “With us it’s not faster, higher, stronger , it’s about being more accurate.
“I can’t imagine what kind of drugs you could use in curling, and for what.”
(Additional reporting Mark Trevelyan. Editing by Mitch Phillips)