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What is Meldonium and how many more athletes will be suspended like Sharapova?

The news of Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test has seen the world’s gaze focus on the little-known meldonium, with fears that a host of other Russian sports stars are set for a similar fate.

The tennis star has been at the center of media attention over the last 24 hours, with the level of blame that should be applied to the 28-year-old still to be determined.

Sharapova has been banned indefinitely by the International Tennis Federation as an investigation takes place, while the affluent sportswoman has seen backing from major sponsors such as Nike and Porsche rescinded.

However, the Russian star claimed that she had been prescribed meldonium for health issues, spanning back to 2006.

“I was getting sick very often, and I had a deficiency in magnesium and a family history of diabetes, and there were signs of diabetes,” Sharapova said.

“That is one of the medications, along with others, that I received. I was first given the substance back in 2006. I had several health issues going on at the time.”

Meldonium is a drug that is prescribed to help deal with heart problems and blood flow, and as such the reasoning behind Sharapova’s use of it adds up.

Despite this, the World Anti-Doping Agency stated as long as six months ago that meldonium was set to be banned, even if this only came into effect on January 1.

Former WADA chief Dick Pound stated that Sharapova and her advisors should have acted quicker.

“You are taking something on a list. I am sorry, that is a big mistake – of course she should have known,” he said.

“She is taking something that is not generally permitted in her country of residence [USA] for medical purposes, so she says, so there must be a doctor following this.

“All the tennis players were given notification of it and she has a medical team somewhere. That is reckless beyond description.”

Meldonium is manufactured by Latvian company Grindeks, who state its course of treatment should be four-to-six weeks. It is recommended to be used no more than for three periods per year.

Sharapova’s attorney John Haggerty has been quick to defend the Russian, stating she used mildronate, which contains meldonium, only when prescribed by her doctor.

Although the tennis star is facing a ban of up to four years, Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpischev believes Sharapova should still be allowed to compete in this summer’s Olympic Games.

“I think that it’s nonsense,” he said.

“Athletes take what their physiotherapists advise them. I believe that Sharapova will still have a chance to play at the Olympics though we will see how things are going to develop.”

Sharapova is seemingly set to be followed by some of her compatriots in testing positive for meldonium.

The prohibited substance was found in a doping test of Russian bicycle racer Eduard Vorganov last month, while former European ice dancing champion and Olympic gold medallist Ekaterina Bobrova has also failed a test this year.

Russian speed skater Pavel Kulizhnikov’s coach, Dmitry Dorofeev, has confessed that the athlete has tested positive for meldonium, without stating specifics of when this happened.

The Russian sports minister has said Sharapova’s case could be the tip of the iceberg.

“There won’t be a huge wave but I suspect there could be several more cases,” he said.

“Maybe this will wake up our trainers and federation a bit. Unfortunately, a lot of athletes took this medicine.”

Despite Sharapova’s claims that she used meldonium for medical reasons, German anti-doping expert Mario Thevis confirmed the drug can “facilitate recovery and enhance physical as well as mental workload capabilities.”

Just how much Sharapova knew about the impact of meldonium remains to be seen and whether it is the tennis star or those advising her that should face the brunt of disciplinary action is to be determined.

However, some prominent members of the sports community have backed Sharapova and showed her sympathy.

Tennis world number one Serena Williams, who has had a hex over the Russian on the court, extended her support for Sharapova.

“I think most people are surprised and shocked by Maria,” she said.

“But, at the same time, I think most people were happy that she was up front and very honest, and showed a lot of courage to admit to what she had done and what she had neglected to look at in terms of the list at the end of the year.

“It’s just taking responsibility, which she admitted she was willing to do, and I just hope for the best for everyone in that situation.”

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