SOCHI, Russia – Two hours before puck drop for the gold medal men’s hockey game against Canada, Team Sweden GM Tommy Boustedt was told by his Olympic committee that center Nicklas Backstrom had a problem with a recent urine sample he had provided to the IOC.
He pulled Backstrom from Sweden’s locker room. They both got on bicycles and rode through a spring-like day in Sochi to the IOC offices for doping violations in the Olympic Athletes Village.
Once there, Backstrom was given the shocking news: IOC officials had detected an illegal level of a banned substance in his system, and Backstrom would be ineligible to play for Sweden with a gold medal on the line.
Backstrom has taken Zyrtec-D for the last seven years. It’s a drug that contains pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that helps reduce stuffy noses.
Pseudoephedrine isn’t banned by the World Anti-Doping Federation until it reaches a certain concentration in an athlete’s urine. If it’s over 150 micrograms per milliliter, then the athlete is in violation of doping rules.
Backstrom’s test, taken Wednesday after Sweden’s win over Slovenia, yielded a level of 190 micrograms per milliliter.
So two hours before Sweden’s gold medal game against Canada, already down two centers in Henriks Zetterberg and Sedin, Backstrom was prohibited from joining their top line in the tournament’s most important game.
Sweden, punchless, lost 3-0, to settled for silver.
Could have been gold, according to Boustedt.
“This is one of the toughest days for Swedish hockey, all because of IOC,” he said. “They have destroyed this big hockey day for Swedish fans.”
But if Backstrom took the test on Wednesday, why were the results known on Sunday?
“The timing is awful. My suspicion is that this is political,” said Boustedt. “If we got the decision two days ago, I don’t think so many people would be sitting here right now to discuss this. So I think they waited to make the real good impact with you journalists.”
Wait ... what? Sweden believes that the IOC intentionally held the test findings until the gold medal game?
“I think they had the results earlier. If they hold onto the results a couple of days, the closer to the game you get you get more people to be interested in this,” Boustedt said. “They need examples to show the whole sport world that we don’t accept doping. But this is not doping . This is something else. But they need something to scare cheaters with. Nicklas is not one of them.”
Even if you don’t agree with the Swedish GM’s conspiracy theory, he’s spot-on about Backstrom. He’s not a cheater.
“I have absolutely nothing to hide. I have allergy problems,” he said. “This was shocking to me.”
When he took his doping test, Backstrom listed Zyrtec-D as one of the drugs he had taken in the last seven days.
“I’m sure he does not know that medication doesn’t contain a banned substance,” said Mark Aubry, chief physician for the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Aubry said the IIHF has Backstrom’s back in the fight against the IOC ruling, because it doesn’t feel he did anything wrong.
“There is no doping in this instance. He is an innocent victim,” Aubry said. “We support him strongly. Doping is not allowed, but this is not a case of doping.”
The IIHF made the case at Backstrom’s hearing that there was no chance to test his "B" sample with just two hours before game time. They asked the IIHF to look favorably upon him, because he declared his medication and had no intention of doping. They brought up an athlete in Vancouver who got off with a warning in a similar situation.
The IOC declined. Backstrom was ruled ineligible.
Backstrom said he’s been tested twice by the NHL and once by the IOC this season and by other international governing bodies in previous hockey tournaments. He’s never been suspended or ruled ineligible due to a banned substance. He has no idea why his levels were up in Sochi.
The NHL released a statement from deputy commissioner Bill Daly:
“We understand that Nicklas Backstrom tested positive for a substance banned ‘in competition’ by the International Olympic Committee. It is our further 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. 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.”
Backstrom, who may not receive a silver medal depending on the outcome of the investigation, said he had trouble watching the gold medal game.
“I was watching the game in the Village. I’ve been here for two weeks. It’s probably the most fun two weeks I’ve ever had. I was ready to play, probably, the biggest game of my career,” said Backstrom.
Indeed it is.