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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 11:54 a.m., Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Honolulu Marathon women's winner tests positive

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Lyubov Denisova, who set a new women's course record at last year's Honolulu Marathon, has tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone and could be suspended from competition for up to two years.

Denisova's manager Andrey Baranov confirmed today that the 35-year-old Russian runner tested positive for an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio — the same finding that derailed 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis.

According to Baranov, the elevated testosterone level was caused by a supplement Denisova ordered over the Internet in January. He said he was unaware of the purchase until after the test.

"She went to the Internet to save money on something you would normally get at a GNC," Baranov said. "She read that it would increase her oxygen capacity and increase muscle strength, and she thought that it was legal to use. Her English is limited so she didn't understand. She should have called me or the Russian (Track and Field) Federation, but she didn't.

"There are no excuses, though," Baranov said. "She takes responsibility for this. She knows she is responsible for everything she puts in her body."

The findings were forwarded to the Russian Track and Field Federation, which will determine Denisova's penalty. Baranov said the federation is likely to impose a suspension of three months to a year.

However, the International Association of Athletics Federations, of which the Russian federation is a member, could impose a longer suspension of its own.

"It could be for one or two years, but typically it's two years," said David Monti, editor of Race Results Weekly, a New York distance-running publication.

"The federation operates on the principle of 'strict liability,' meaning if it's in your body, you're responsible, even if it was a case of sabotage," Monti said. "There is no distinction between an honest mistake and being found a cheater."

Baranov said he does not know when the Russian federation will make its decision. Today and tomorrow are holidays in Russia.

The World Anti-Doping Agency conducted the random "out-of-competition" test at Denisova's home in Gainsville, Fla., on March 20.

Following regular testing protocol, the sample was divided in two. When the "A" sample revealed evidence of performance-enhancing drugs, the "B" sample was sent to Montreal for independent confirmation.

Baranov said he received word last Friday that the "B" sample did indeed confirm the original finding.

Once the findings and penalties are officially announced, Denisova's results from the three races in which she competed after the date of the test will be voided.

Denisova won the More Magazine Half-Marathon Relay in New York on March 25. She placed seventh in both the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K in Charleston, S.C., on March 31, and the Boston Marathon on April 16.

Boston Marathon officials confirmed that Denisova's results from the race will stand until her drug-test findings are officially announced.

Denisova's record finish at the Dec. 9, 2006, Honolulu Marathon, and the $67,000 she received in prize and incentive money, cannot be redressed — much to the consternation of Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal.

"We're extremely disappointed that our defending champion tested positive," Barahal said. "It's totally against the ethic of our sport. We can't go back in time and take back the money and the title, but it's a reasonable conclusion that if she was cheating in February and March, it's likely that she was under the influence in December.

"I can't prove it, unfortunately," Barahal said. "It's disappointing that she's become the Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire of the Honolulu Marathon."

The fallout for Denisova is potentially devastating. At 35, Denisova is already considered relatively old for a competitive marathoner. In addition to losing whatever money she might have earned from competing, Denisova, who bought her house in Florida shortly after her victory in Honolulu, could find her contract with Nike in jeopardy if she's dealt a prolonged suspension.

Baranov said his client is still in shock over the findings.

"Like alcoholics love drinking, Lyubov loves running," he said. "She still wants me to enter her marathons even if there's no money, just because she loves to run. It's her life."

Baranov said Denisova had been looking forward to defending her Honolulu Marathon title this year, especially because of the warm reception she received last year. Denisova was back in Honolulu in February to speak at local schools and to present a $15,000 check to the University of Hawaii Foundation on behalf of the Honolulu Marathon Association.

Baranov said Denisova would still like to come back in December to run the marathon as an open-field entrant and to apologize to her Hawai'i fans.

That isn't likely to happen.

"She'll never run here again," Barahal said.

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.