Yulia Efimova Suspended From Swimming For 16 Months

This is one of those instances where it’s really REALLY important to read the label.

Not to count calories, but to make sure you’re not about to ingest something that will get you suspended from swimming. Such was the case with Russian breaststroker Yulia Efimova who picked up a supplement from GNC that would earn her a 16-month suspension from the FINA Doping Panel. The 22-year old tested positive for the banned substance 7-keto-DHEA, an ingredient that is classified as an endogenous anabolic androgenic steroid by the World Anti-Doping Code.

The ingredient 7-keto-DHEA is similar to regular DHEA but is not converted directly to testosterone or estrogen like the latter and is marketed as a dietary supplement. It is legal for sale to the general public in the States where Efimova lives and trains.

The whole kicker of the situation is that the panel recognizes that Efimova did “not intend to use 7-Keto DHEA in order to enhance her sport performance.” She in fact believed she was taking a legal supplement.

Efimova is a member of the Trojan Swim Club in LA which has come under fire for having several other doping transgressions by its members. However, Yulia said she purchased the supplement (what’s known as Cellucor CLK) from a GNC without her coach’s knowledge or even encouragement. She testified that “her coach frequently tells his swimmers that they can get all the nutrition they need through a well-balanced diet and that supplements are unnecessary.”

Efimova claims to have only used the Cellucor (which lists 7-keto-DHEA as an active ingredient) for a one week period. She tested clean at 12 other instances during the year, a fact that Efimova figured would grant her some leniency. They were also hoping that the language barrier between the native-Russian and the GNC salesperson, who assured Yulia the product was doping free, would result in clemency.

The minimum suspension that FINA could have handed down was 12 months with a maximum sentence of 24. Efimova was given 16.

Efimova’s urine sample, taken on October 31st 2013, tested positive in an out-of-competition doping control conducted by FINA. The sample was tested at the Montreal, Canada WADA lab.

The Doping Panel recognized Efimova’s “naivete” by trusting the salesperson at GNC when she purchased the product. They also acknowledge that the clean test results that came back on October 21st and November 10th of that year supports the swimmer’s claim that she only used the supplement for one week. The reason she got punished four months beyond the minimum requirement for suspension was because they hold her to a higher standard because of her accomplishments in the sport. The panel said, “her care and caution in purchasing and using supplements and failing to read the ingredients on the label of supplements that she used fell considerably below the level that should be expected from an elite international swimmer and world record holder.”

Speaking of world records, those titles that she achieved after that October 31st 2013 are to be stripped from her.

This includes her world records in the 50 and 200 breaststrokes accomplished on November 10th at a FINA World Cup and December 13th at the Euro Championships, respectively. She will also lose her four gold medals and a silver from the 2013 European Championships.

Efimova and her attorneys will have 21 days to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, if they so choose. However, reports suggest she won’t fight the decision. She said, “[appealing] requires energy, time, and most importantly, money. Moreover, I know that I made a mistake. The main thing is to start [working] for the World Championships in Kazan and the Olympic Games.”

Yulia will have to do that training alone as part of the conditions of her suspension is not being able to train as a member of an organized team. She will be able to return to the sport right before it’s time to compete in the trials for the 2015 World Championships hosted by her home country of Russia.

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