Maria Sharapova describes the moment she learned she had failed a drugs test

Posted by John Doe 10/09/2017 0 Comment(s)

Maria Sharapova, the former world number one, Grand Slam holder and highest-paid female athlete on the planet, has described how she felt on the day a failed drugs test that put her entire tennis career in jeopardy.

The 6' 2" Russian, then 28, had planned to retire after  the Rio Olympics following her final season on the punishing tour was her life for the previous 12 year

 

Instead, having been beaten in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open by her great rival, Serena Williams, she found herself staring at a “funny-looking” email from the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

She recalled: “ I was back in LA, training. As I read, my heart started to pound. It said the urine sample I had given in Australia had come back positive.


 

"In other words, and I had to read this again and again to make sure I was not hallucinating.

“I had failed the drug test. How? What the hell could it be? I took nothing new, nothing that was not legal and prescribed by a doctor. It was called meldonium. OK, obviously this was a mistake.”

 

It wasn’t. Meldonium, or Mildronate as it is known in Russia and the Baltic, where it can be purchased over the counter, had been listed as a banned performance-enhancing drug just a month beforehand.

 

However, by that stage Sharapova had been taking it for 10 years, with the approval of her doctor.

Not only that, but, as she explains in an extract from her forthcoming autobiography, Unstoppable, published in The Guardian, she even had written confirmation that it was permissible to use it to treat an irregular heartbeat.


 

Her mistake was not to read an ITF email from January 2016 that listed  a catalogue of newly-banned substances in series of internet links.

“I never followed those links, and didn’t ask any of my team to. That was my mistake,” Sharapova confesses.

“But the ITF didn’t draw any attention to the fact that they were suddenly banning a supplement that was being legally used by millions of people. That was their mistake.

“I felt trapped, tricked, but I figured all I had to do was explain myself. With the news yet to go public, Sharapova called a hastily-arranged Press conference, and, dressed in black, attempted tell her side of the story.

“I felt so relieved exiting that room. I wanted my friends and fans and even my enemies to know, because I believed they would understand. I was wrong

 

“Suddenly, no matter who I looked at, I found myself thinking, “Do they think I’m a cheater?” For the first time in my life, I was worried what people thought of me.”

 

Within hours Nike, her sponsor, had suspended her. She would ultimately be handed a two-year ban by the ITF, reduced to 15 months.

She returned to competitive tennis in April this year going on to compete in New York, Stuttgart, Madrid, and at the Italian Open in Rome.


 

But, Sharapova admits, as the scandal unfolded, she felt like “curling up into a ball”. Eventually, however, she decided to “get up and carry on.

“I’d signed up for an 8.30am spinning class. At the studio, everyone was staring, or maybe that was just in my mind. I got on a bike, put my head down and made myself pedal.

“I cried through the entire class, but I did what I had to do. From that moment, I knew it was going to be awful and unfair, but that I’d get through it.”