“And now they say: OK, compete…”
First judo nation in London, Russia is taken since a couple of months between the devil of the Meldonium case and the deep blue sea of the athletics and Sochi Winter Olympic Games scandals. How did the Russians cope with this turbulent semester – which has, for many observers, a bit of a Cold War taste? We asked Dmitry Morozov, Head coach of the Russian men team. Double junior European champion and senior European medallist in 1998, the former -90kg, aged 42, is a key-witness of his general manager Ezio Gamba years [cf. EDJ61]. Man of few words but clear-cut analysis, it is the first time he talks on the matter. In the name of his team.
NB: a French version of this interview can be found here.
Dmitry Morozov, July 2016 in Castelldefels (Spain) ©Anthony Diao/L'Esprit du judo
When did this all Meldonium story start, exactly?
I can tell you exactly the date. It was on September 29th 2015, that means one month after the end of the World Championships in Astana.
What happened on that day?
Our doctors informed us that from January 1st 2016, Meldonium would probably be prohibited.
So what did you say to your athletes?
What do you think we said? We told them to stop taking Mildronate, the medicine they use which contains Meldonium.
And did they respect that decision?
Most of them stopped it immediately, yes.
Meaning: not all of them?
This was our biggest and worst surprise, unfortunately.
But maybe we should start there: why did your athletes need to take that medicine, in the first place?
This is a key point. You have to understand one thing: in Russia –and, before Russia, in USSR-, it’s normal to support your body during hard training period. It’s cultural. High level is not normal for a human body. So if you want your body to be able to sustain that effort, you have to help him. It’s a matter of balance.
Did you do the same when you were an athlete?
Of course! On those years, the main medicine was called Riboxin. It was normal to take it. It was like amino acids.
So for you Meldonium is a kind of new generation of Riboxin?
I’m not a doctor but from what I know, yes. Once again, for us it’s a matter of protecting our body. Not a doping scheme.
In the beginning of April 2016 – three weeks before the European Championships organized in Kazan, Russia -, four athletes from the Russian Judo team were announced having been tested positive with Meldonium…
Yes, and I can tell you exactly the names, the dates and the rates. And I will explain later why these three points are important. So first of all our -73kg Iartcev was tested positive on February 6th with 39 nanograms. Then our -66kg Pulyaev was caught with 20ng on March 3rd. Then our -63kg Valkova was tested two times. On March 4th she was 100ng, and on March 5th she was 170ng. Two tests, two different results! And last one was our -48kg Kondratyeva, who was 750ng on March 4th.
So these four athletes were the ones you mentioned who continued to take Meldonium in spite of your warning in September 2015?
It’s more complex. The biggest problem was this one: how long Meldonium stays in your body? One week? One month? One year? Until today, this point is not clear – and this is a very important point, no? But yes, for example, Kondratyeva explained us that she continued to take it until November 2015.
Why did she continue two months more?
Because it was not prohibited till January!
What did the three others say to explain their results?
They explained us that they had been using Meldonium for a long time in their sportlife. It was under doctor recommendations, in order to protect their heart during heavy exercise cycles. And they all stopped using it at once when they understood it would be prohibited.
Did you take internal sanctions?
Yes we did against some doctors. Because they didn’t manage to explain to the athletes how important it was to stop using Meldonium - I think this is because, once again, until now we didn't recognize Meldonium as doping.
One of the Iartcev twin brothers, August 2015 in Sochi (Russia) ©Anthony Diao/L'Esprit du judo
Three weeks later, Valkova ended 3rd in Kazan, Iartcev 5th and Kondratyeva 7th, and Pulyaev didn’t fight. Why were they finally allowed to fight, in spite of being tested positive?
One week before Kazan, Iartcev was totally acquitted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), for two reasons: first, because he was tested before March 1st, and second, because his rate was less than 1 000ng. Furthermore, as I told you before, the difference between our three athletes rates was minimal. Then WADA decided to allow them to compete until the end of investigations.
What if those three athletes were controlled again in Kazan?
Our strategy was: if Iartcev, acquitted, was picked again for doping control, that control would have revealed Meldonium again. And this paradox would have shown to everyone how stupid the situation was!
So what the Kazan’s controls finally revealed?
We decided to put them in that competition, hoping for a new doping control, in order to make people understand the differences between the first and the second control but… none of them was controlled in Kazan!
Indeed… And did you change your plans a lot for these European Championships? In other categories too?
All the rest of the team was young because we didn't want to put our top athletes. It was the same strategy than in 2012.
At the end, Valkova, Pulyaev and Iartcev will fight in Rio... But before starting this interview, you told me that you just received a letter from the WADA. What does it say?
Indeed, on June 30th, WADA sent us an update of the first notice they published on April 13th. This time they said that, below 1 000ng, there is no fault. Please compare with the rates I mentioned you earlier. That means that none of our four athletes should have been tested positive. Not a single one of them!
What was your reaction?
How do you think we reacted? With “OK, thank you, no problem”? No! This story created a big mess in our team. For what? For nothing!It happened less than five months before the start of the Olympics. We were speaking to lawyers, we were speaking to doctors, for days, when our only place should have been on the mat. Who will pay us back those days? And why this update only one month before the Olympics? Why not in April? Had it been known in April, nobody in our team would have been worried about that story, and we could have focused on the Olympics like all the other teams.
All this happened between the Russian athletics and the Sochi’s Winter Olympic Games scandals…
In our judo team, we never used prohibited substances. Never. And let me tell you one thing: when Ezio Gamba arrived in 2008, one of the first things he said to the staff was this: “I don’t believe in magic. If we want judo results, we have to focus on judo. Daily work, confidence, but no magic.”
A couple of days ago, on July 24th, IOC finally decided not to forbid the Olympics to Russian teams, and to let the final decision to the international federations…
For me, nothing new. We are living with this pressure since five months now. And now they say: OK, compete…
Interview by Anthony Diao
For further informations, you can find here the WADA June 30th 2016 notice.
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