As yet another top world athlete admits to a doping scandal, the question is how many more will follow?
Tennis star Maria Sharapova is the latest in a long time of recent stars to succumb to a failed drugs test.
The former world number one announced her disgrace at a sombre press conference in a Los Angeles hotel.
As the golden girl of tennis, Sharapova is as well-known for modelling swim suits as she is for gracing the world’s top competitions in her sport.
She admitted she had tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at last year’s Australian Open.
Cheat or taken by mistake?
The drug is prescribed to treat heart problems., by increasing the flow of blood. This enhances performance for athletes as the blood can carry more oxygen to muscles before fatigue sets in.
“My family doctor prescribed the drug as mildronate, which I did not know was another name for meldonium,” said Sharapova.
“For ten years this was not a banned medicine and I was taking it legally.”
However, she has lived in the USA for 21 years and the drug was never approved by the government’s drug administration, so she must have obtained her prescription from overseas.
The drug was flagged as a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency in September, but athletes were forbidden to use it from January 1, 2016.
For Sharapova, either she cheated and took the drug to improve her performance or accidentally took the drug, which is negligence on both her part and that of her trainers.
Drug of choice for athletes
Either way, under WADA rules, a suspension follows.
Meldonium is one of the drugs of choice for cheating Russian athletes. Testers detected the drug in the bodies of 724 of 4,316 (17%) Russians who failed tests, according to a WADA study published in 2015.
Sharapova says she has taken the drug for 10 years due to illness.
However, the Russian anti-doping agency sent a letter to athletes in September giving them a heads up that meldonium would be banned in January.
Already this year, banned athletes who failed drug tests due to meldonium traces include Abebe Aregawi, the 2013 women’s 1,500m world champion; Endeshaw Negesse, the 2015 Tokyo marathon champion; Olga Abramova and Artem Tyschcenko, two Ukrainian biathletes; Eduard Vorganov, a Russian cyclist and Ekaterina Bobrova, a Russian ice dancer.