MOSCOW -- The Russian sports world struggled to digest the news of Maria Sharapova’s suspension from international tennis after she admitted to failing a drug test.
The 28-year-old is probably Russia’s most famous sports star, and her suspension by the World Tennis Association is a shock for the country’s sporting establishment that also deals yet another blow to the nation’s hopes for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer.
The head of Russia’s national tennis federation, Shamil Tarpischev, declared it "all nonsense" and other Russian tennis officials said they thought it must be a mistake. A well-known trainer, Viktor Yanchuk, told the Russian site, R-Sport, that "it was a punch to the gut" for Russian tennis.
Sharapova won silver for Russia at the London Olympics in 2012 and her coaches had hoped she might press for gold in Rio. Without her, Yanchuk said, the chances of the country medaling in tennis were virtually nil.
Russia already faces largely missing out on the Rio Olympics over doping after a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation accused the country of running a huge cover-up of drug use by its track and field athletes. The allegations led the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to suspend Russia’s athletes from international competitions, including, for now, the Olympics. It’s unclear whether the ban will be lifted in time for Rio.
The drug that prompted Sharapova’s suspension, meldonium, also threatens to cause further trouble for Russian athletes. A filmmaker from the German channel ARD, who first broke the story of a doping cover-up, claimed today that 1 in 5 Russian athletes were using the drug before its banning in January. A Russian figure skater, Ekaterina Bobrova, was also suspended Monday for using meldonium.