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Column: Efimova is a poor poster child for Russian scandal

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) " A public shaming at the Olympic Games isn't pretty.

After the scandal of state-organized Russian cheating and Olympic officials' spineless response, it perhaps was only a matter of when, not if, a Russian athlete in Rio would be booed and blamed.

Olympians and fans are disgusted. Understandably so. Revelations that Russian officials erased doping positives, flushed away dirty urine samples and gave cheats a clean bill of health are sickening. So, too, was the International Olympic Committee's refusal to ban Russia outright from the Rio de Janeiro Games.

But swimmer Yulia Efimova is a poor poster child for Russia's deceit.

Yes, the 24-year-old is Russian. And, yes, she did positive in 2013 for a banned steroid, DHEA. That doesn't, however, automatically make her a doper. Three arbitrators, none of them Russian, who heard Efimova's case and banned her from competition for 16 months were clear about that.

They ruled that "she clearly was not" intentionally cheating and "she did not intend to enhance sport performance."

Instead, they determined, Efimova was negligent. The legal supplement she bought at a store near her home in California contained DHEA. It even said so on the label.

But Efimova naively believed the store clerk who told her the product was OK and did not read the label herself, they determined.

Foolish, then, but not Lance Armstrong.

The arbitrators noted that Efimova impressed them "as sincere and honest and appropriately remorseful for her mistake. She did not seek to blame others for her rule violation and she accepted responsibility for her actions."

These all-important nuances got drowned in the Olympic pool.

The Cold War-ish narrative of a feisty 19-year-old American, Lilly King, striking a blow for clean athletes by staring down and beating the Russian was too appealing to let all the facts get in the way.

Another U.S. swimmer, Cody Miller, even went so far as to liken his teammate's defeat of Efimova in the 100-meter breaststroke to the movie "Rocky IV," where Sylvester Stallone's boxer knocks out juiced-up Soviet monster Ivan Drago.

"BOOOOM!!" Miller tweeted. "AMERICA PREVAILS!!"

Get a grip.

Howard Jacobs, the California lawyer who represented Efimova in her 2014 case heard by the doping panel for swimming's governing body, FINA, says ire against her is misplaced.

"It's not that everyone who tests positive is evil," he said in a phone interview. "There are very few athletes who take the time to understand anti-doping until they are actually thrown into an anti-doping case because of a mistake that they make."

For the record, FINA also cleared Efimova for the six times meldonium was found in her drug-test samples in February and March this year. The Latvian-made heart drug was routinely taken by East European athletes before the World Anti-Doping Agency banned its use at the start of the year. But the science behind the ban was incomplete and WADA subsequently issued new guidelines allowing athletes to be cleared in some cases.

FINA said the amount of meldonium in Efimova's samples was "very low" and that its doping panel concluded that she wasn't at fault.

WADA could have challenged FINA's decision and appealed but did not, judging that the federation handled the case correctly.

Those are the rules.

Efimova's rivals may not like them. They may not like her. But should they ever run afoul of those same rules, they'll also want a fair shake and likely be on the phone to lawyers like Jacobs.

"When they hear stories about contaminated supplements, they think it's all BS," he said. "They don't believe it until it happens to them."

If swimmers need a target, they should aim at FINA instead. The federation awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin its highest honor, the FINA Order, in 2014 for what it gushed was his great contribution "to strengthen the fraternity between nations, improve the lifestyle and education of the youth in Russia and promote a healthier society."

That coziness, always inappropriate, now looks just horrible in the wake of the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal.

The next time King takes to the Olympic pool " she and Efimova race in 200-meter heats on Wednesday " it would be good to hear her take a stand on that.

___

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester@ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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