Maria Sharapova is facing a potential career-ending ban after testing positive for the illegal substance of meldonium, which was found in her blood while she competed in January's Australian Open.
The Russian tennis star rocked the sporting world after confirming the failed drugs test during a press conference in Los Angeles on Monday. The gathered press were expecting her to announce her retirement after a spate of injury problems.
Sharapova admitted she was ready to face the punishment handed to her by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and apologised for letting the sport she loves down.
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"I did fail the test and take full responsibility for it," said Sharapova, who won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 2004.
However, she also curiously admitted that she had been taking the drug for over ten years and suggested that she was not aware that it had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list of banned substances.
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So what is meldonium? Why was Sharapova taking it and why did WADA ban it? Here we run through the key points about this mysterious drug.
- The drug encourages blood to flow to parts of the body to counteract the effects of a condition called ischaemia, common in patients suffering angina or heart failure.
- It is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA and is only issued to countries in the Baltic and Russia.
- Up until it was banned on 1 January 2016, the drug was commonly used amongst Russian athletes as it is believed it improves exercise capacity in athletes.
- Some athletes were using it in performance-enhancing dosages of 1000-2000mg/day prior to training to take advantage of its stimulating properties
- Before WADA noted it as a drug of interest, some pharmaceutical companies had started marketing it as a performance enhancer.
- WADA approved a request to add it to the banned list on 16 September 2015 and it came into effect on New Year's Day.
- A documentary into systematic Russian doping by German TV station Hajo Seppelt claimed 17% of Russian athletes (724 of 4,316) had meldonium in their system.
- It is classed as an S4 substance by WADA, which carries a standard ban of four years under the WADA code.
- Several athletes have been banned after testing positive for the drug since January.
Sharapova has claimed she took the drug to compensate for a magnesium deficiency that runs in her family. However, critics have since claimed that it was to counter the effects of training, thus making it performance enhancing.
While she may cry ignorance, it is also reported that Russian anti-doping regulators sent a memo to all Russian athletes regarding the incoming ban for the widely used drug.
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