Nicklas Backstrom to get Olympic silver despite drug test
Forward removed from gold medal game after testing positive for banned stimulant
Swedish hockey star Nicklas Backstrom will receive an Olympic silver medal even though he was suspended from the final in Sochi after a positive drug test.
The International Olympic Committee ruled Friday that Backstrom hadn't intended to enhance his performance, laying the blame for his positive test for pseudoephedrine on the Swedish team doctor.
The Washington Capitals centre was suspended and pulled from the team just hours before the Feb. 23 gold-medal game, which Sweden lost 3-0 to Canada.
"While I will always be disappointed that I wasn't able to play in the gold medal game with my fellow countrymen, I'm pleased that my name has been cleared by the IOC," Backstrom said in a statement. "It is important to me that the IOC has acknowledged that I had asked for and received specific advice from my team doctor that taking this allergy medication would not be a violation.
"In addition, I had disclosed my use of over-the-counter medication prior to being tested."
The Swedes were outraged by the timing of the decision and said it affected the team's performance.
The IOC defended the suspension, saying it was "fully justified" because of the positive test and noting that Backstrom conceded also taking the allergy medication on the day of the final. But the IOC ruled that the player should not be kicked out of the Sochi Games altogether, citing "mitigating circumstances."
"There was no indication of any intent of the athlete to improve his performance by taking a prohibited substance," the IOC's three-person disciplinary commission said. "As a consequence, the athlete is entitled to receive the silver medal and diploma awarded in respect of the men's ice hockey event."
Backstrom tested positive for excess levels of pseudoephedrine after Sweden's win over Slovenia in the quarterfinals on Feb. 19. He said the stimulant was contained in "Zytec-D," a medication he had been taking for allergies.
The IOC said the positive result in the "A" sample was confirmed on the morning of Feb. 23. A hearing with Backstrom and Swedish team officials was quickly assembled. Among those attending was Bjorn Waldeback, the Swedish hockey team doctor and chief medical officer of the Swedish Olympic Committee.
While I will always be disappointed that I wasn't able to play in the gold medal game with my fellow countrymen, I'm pleased that my name has been cleared by the IOC.- Nicklas Backstrom
The IOC said Backstrom had "nothing to hide" and explained he had been taking the allergy medication regularly for seven years on the advice of a doctor and had never produced a positive test. He said he had taken the medication earlier that day.
"We are certainly pleased that Nicklas Backstrom's name has been cleared by the IOC ruling, allowing him to receive the silver medal that he earned with his Swedish teammates," Don Fehr, the NHL Players' Association executive director said in a statement. "The decision by the IOC Disciplinary Commission makes it clear that Nicklas was open and co-operative throughout the process and had clearly disclosed on his doping control form the Zyrtec-D medication he had been taking for his allergies.
"Moreover, it is also welcome that the decision makes clear that Nicklas had both requested and received specific advice from the Swedish Chief Medical Officer that the allergy medication he was taking would not give rise to an adverse analytical finding. Backstrom did nothing inappropriate, but merely asked for and followed medical advice from his team doctor."
The IOC said Backstrom told the panel he knew the medication contained pseudoephedrine but relied on Waldeback's advice that the dosage wouldn't trigger a positive test. Waldeback said he was "at fault" for that advice.
Backstrom's backup "B" sample was tested later on Feb. 23 and also came back positive.
The IOC ruled that Backstrom committed an anti-doping violation by having the banned substance in his system. But the panel said he had been "open and co-operative," had disclosed the medication on his doping control form and had relied on Waldeback's advice.
The IOC ruled that Waldeback "made a serious error" by telling Backstrom his use of the medication wouldn't result in a positive test. If the doctor applies for Olympic accreditation in the future, the IOC should "seriously consider" his role in the case, the panel said.
The IOC said the decision "should in no way" be seen as taking away from the responsibility of athletes to be vigilant and ensure that no prohibited substances enter their body.
"It is unfortunate that his test results were not disclosed until just prior to the gold medal game on Feb. 23, four days after the test was done," Fehr said. "Had this matter been presented in a timely manner, it is possible that steps could have been taken to resolve this issue before the gold medal game."