Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova says she failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January due to a substance she has been taking for 10 years for health reasons.
Sharapova told a news conference in Los Angeles Monday that the drug, meldonium, was only added to the list of banned substances by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the start of this year. She said she did not look at the updated ban list before taking her medication.
«I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down and I let the sport down. I have been playing since the age of four a sport that I love so deeply,» Sharapova said.
The drug meldonium – manufactured in Latvia – is used to treat diabetes, heart disease, and low magnesium, but some researchers have linked it to increased athletic performance if taken in large doses. It is not approved in the United States but is available in Russia and former Soviet Union countries.
«I was first given the substance back in 2006. I had several health issues going on at the time,» said Sharapova. «I was getting sick very often and I had a deficiency in magnesium and a family history of diabetes, and there were signs of diabetes.» She said the medicine also goes by the name of mildronate which is what she called it.
The 28-year-old Russian, winner of five Grand Slam titles, said she did not know what the penalty would be for ingesting the now-banned drug.
«I know that with this I face consequences and I don’t want to end my career this way. I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game.»
WADA president Craig Reedie told The Associated Press that any athlete testing positive for meldonium would normally face a one-year suspension.
Sharapova, currently ranked seventh in the world, has struggled with a series of injuries in recent years. She has not competed since she lost to world No.1 American Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January 25.