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Fresh Russian doping case overshadows Zagitova magic

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A fresh Russian doping case overshadowed the team’s first gold medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Games on Friday and could lower the country’s chances of an early return to the Olympic fold. Russia’s bobsleigh federation said female pilot Nadezhda Sergeyeva had tested positive for a “heart medicine” which is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances.

Russia’s second doping case in Pyeongchang, after curler Alexander Krushelnitsky was stripped of his mixed doubles bronze medal, comes as Olympic officials consider whether to lift Russia’s suspension following a major drugs scandal. “A doping test by the pilot of the Russian team Nadezhda Sergeyeva on 18 February gave a positive result for a heart medicine that is on the banned list,” a Russian bobsleigh federation statement said.

Sergeyeva placed 14th in the women’s bobsleigh on Wednesday, partnered by brake-woman Anastasia Kocherzhova.She is among 168 Russians who passed extended vetting to compete as neutrals in Pyeongchang, after Russia’s national Olympic committee was suspended over systemic doping culminating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

Despite the extra screening by anti-doping experts, Russians have accounted for half of the drugs cases in Pyeongchang. Japanese short-track speed skater Kei Saito and Slovenian ice hockey player Ziga Jeglic are the other two athletes to fail tests. Sergeyeva’s case came to light shortly after 15-year-old Alina Zagitova led a Russian one-two in the women’s figure skating, securing the first gold for the neutrally flagged Olympic Athletes from Russia team.

Zagitova scored exactly the same, 156.65, as Evgenia Medvedeva in the free skate, but edged the 18-year-old two-time world champion by 1.31 points thanks to her sublime, world-record short program on Thursday. “I can’t believe I’m the champion,” said Zagitova, who is still in her debut season on the senior circuit. “It’ll take some time to sink in.” The result appeared devastating for Medvedeva, who was so overcome she was unable to finish a TV interview. An Olympic official followed her round with a box of tissues.

Sergeyeva’s positive test also came on a day when the Russians reached the men’s ice hockey final by beating the Czech Republic 3-0 with goaltender Vasili Koshechkin making a game-winning 31 saves. It gives them a fabulous chance of winning their first Olympic title since 1992 when they face either Canada or Germany in Sunday’s final. Also on Friday, Kelsey Serwa beat fellow Canadian Brittany Phelan to win the women’s ski cross title, which has been in Canadian hands since the sport’s Olympic debut in 2010.

Among the evening events, French army officer Martin Fourcade will go for his fourth gold medal of the Games in the men’s 4 x 7.5km biathlon relay. Olympic officials will decide over the weekend whether to ease Russia’s suspension and allow their athletes to wave the national flag at Sunday’s closing ceremony. They have the option to “partially or fully” lift Russia’s suspension, which was imposed in December after investigations revealed a highly orchestrated doping plot.

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