Swedish centre Nicklas Backstrom failed a doping test for a substance found in an allergy medication and was withdrawn from Sunday’s hockey final at the Sochi Olympics.
Backstrom, who plays for the NHL’s Washington Capitals, was scratched just before the game began and had to watch Sweden’s 3-0 loss to Canada on TV.
“I was very sad and obviously ... I felt bad for the guys, lots of guys were in the locker room when they called me out,” he said.
Sweden coach Par Marts was critical of the IOC’s timing. He said Backstrom was tested in connection with the team’s 5-0 win over Slovenia on Wednesday but was only told 20 minutes before the final that his centre couldn’t play.
“I think it sucks,” Marts said. “It’s like kindergarten.”
Asked about Merts criticism of the doping process, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, “We will not comment on any potential process until it has concluded.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement saying the substance Backstrom tested positive for was not on the league’s list of banned substances.
“It is our ... understanding that the positive test was the result of a common allergy medication taken by the player knowingly, with the approval of the team doctor and without the intention of gaining an illegal or improper performance-enhancing benefit,” Daly said. “Subject to confirmation of the facts as we understand them, and given the fact that the substance is neither prohibited in the NHL nor was used in an improper manner here, we do not anticipate there being any consequences relative to Nicklas’ eligibility to participate in games for the Washington Capitals.”
Backstrom was listed in the team lineups distributed before the game, and forward Daniel Alfredsson said the team was told he wouldn’t play just before it started.
“It’s too bad he couldn’t play,” Sweden winger Carl Hagelin said. “We lost a really good player.”
Swedish Olympic Committee spokesman Bjorn Folin said the banned substance was in an allergy medication Backstrom has taken for the past seven years.
Backstrom is the sixth athlete to fail a doping test at the Games. Five of the six, including Backstrom, tested positive for minor stimulants that are often found in food supplements.
Several of Backstrom’s teammates declined to comment on his positive test, with Hagelin saying only that he thinks “it’s a bit strange.”
“He’s an innocent victim of circumstances,” said Dr. Mark Aubry,the IIHF’s medical officer. “There is no doping in this instance. We will fight strongly for him. Their (IOC) answer was they have a lot of tests and they don’t’ have a name, they just have a number. Under the circumstances we should have known sooner.”
Backstrom, who was tested by the IOC after the quarter-final win over Slovenia, has dealt with allergies all his life. “I have nothing to hide,” said Backstrom. “It was shocking to me, to be honest with you. I feel like I haven’t done anything differently than I have the last seven years.”
Swedish officials were furious with how they learned of the results, given that it took until hours before the final game before they were notified that Backstrom couldn’t play.
“We’re all upset by this,” said Tommy Boustedt, an official with the Swedish Ice Hockey Association. “Our opinion is the IOC has destroyed one of the greatest hockey days in Sweden.
“I think the timing is awful. We should have the results within 48 hours. Imagine the players and coaches preparing for the game and they hear this news.
“My suspicion is it’s political. They waited until the final day of competition to make the biggest impact on you journalists.
“They need examples to show we don’t accept doping and scare the cheaters. But this isn’t doping.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement saying Backstrom’s positive test was “The result of a common allergy medication taken by the player knowingly, with the approval of the team doctor and without the intention of gaining an illegal or improper performance-enhancing benefit. In addition, the specific substance that resulted in the positive test is not currently on the League’s Prohibited Substances List.
“Subject to confirmation of the facts as we understand them, and given the fact that the substance is neither prohibited in the NHL nor was used in an improper manner here, we do not anticipate there being any consequences relative to Nicklas’ eligibility to participate in games for the Washington Capitals.”
As for Backstrom, he was heart-broken.
“I’m going to speak from the heart,” he said. “The last two weeks have been some of the best in my life. I was getting ready to play the biggest game of my career and two and a half hours ago I was pulled aside. That’s sad.”
With files from the Associated Press