Earlier this week, Maria Sharapova was banned for two years after failing a drug test back in January, during the Australian Open.
The five-time Grand Slam champion was tested positive for meldonium, also known as mildronate; a substance she admitted taking since 2006 because of her magnesium deficiency and her family history of diabetes.
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The first argument used by Maria Sharapova was that she had not been made aware that meldonium became a banned substance on January 1st, 2016. To which the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) reminded her that an email has been sent out to all athletes to warn them that the drug was added to the list of illegal substance.
Sharapova also claimed that she did not realise that she was using this substance, because she only knew the drug under the name mildronate.
Admittedly all of this can be understood and doesn’t sound ‘sinister’ in any way. Ignorant? Yes, but not much more than that…
However, there is other evidence that suggests that there is little chance for her use of the substance to be a simple and innocent mistake.
Firstly, officials from the Latvian company making this drug explained that the drug is usually prescribed for a period extending between 4 and 6 weeks.
Maria Sharapova’s duration of use? 10 years. Not exactly the same.
Secondly, on their website, the manufacturer explains that mildronate is normally used “for the treatment of different heart and vascular diseases, as well as for the improvement of work capacity of healthy people at physical and mental overload.”
So, what exactly does this mean?
It means that mildronate or meldonium is normally used to help with conditions such as angina pectoris or heart failure. Indeed, it treats a phenomenon called ischaemia, which prevents the blood to properly flow to different parts of the body.
Understanding that means that you can figure out why it helps the performances of professional athletes. Indeed, as it helps increasing the blood flow in your body; for a healthy person it means that your body will have the capacity to transport more blood to your muscles and inevitably your brain. The results? Improved physical capacity and mental function. Without question these are factors that will aid anybody in any sport.
A study published in the Drug Testing and Analysis journal even discovered that when used by professional athletes, the substance would improve their rehabilitation after exercise, protect them against stress and enhance the activation of central nervous system functions.
As is always the case in these matters the sportsperson who takes the fall is ultimately responsible for what he/she is putting into their body – even if it is supplied by coaches, trainers or even doctors.
Whatever the reason, the most commercially powerful player in the women’s game had significant quantities of a recently banned substance in her system and is now serving a significant ban.
The game will continue to move on in her absence and she’ll have to catch up – meldonium free – when the ban is served.