Wrestler Heiki Nabi tests positive for doping

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Heiki Nabi (right).
Heiki Nabi (right). Source: Siim Solman

Two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist wrestler Heiki Nabi tested positive for letrozole, a drug prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The 35-year old Nabi tested positive for the illegal substance letrozole in the start of the year, a medicine used to accelerate muscle growth and development. Nabi is now under a primary competition ban, as of Wednesday.

"I was and still am shocked! I sincerely cannot imagine how a substance such as this ended up in my organism. The lack of knowledge in this situation is most hurtful. With my hand on my heart - I have always followed fair play rules when doing sports," said Nabi via a press release. "When I heard the substance is found in women's breast cancer medicines, my bewilderment grew larger."

Letrozole is indeed an inhibitor which is used in the treatment of hormonally-responsive breast cancer post-surgery. Nabi's current coach Ivar Kotkas confirmed as much, calling the incindent a great shock and that the substance letrozole is unknown to him.

Nabi now has until February 23 to announce a desire for a B-sample and until March 3 to send an explanatory note to the Estonian Center for Integrity in Sports. The wrestler said he is planning on demanding a B-sample. "Certainly I must have one opened. I have no other way," Nabi said.

Nabi: We will put together a supportive team

"I have not knowingly used any prohibited substances. All that I have consumed, I have consumed before and tested. We will begin explaining how this is possible," Nabi said during a virtual press conference on Thursday. "I am in suspense and in a tough situation. I am interested in finding the fastest solution possible and going forward with the season."

Nabi said he must now meticulously go over the period preceding the doping test. "And then put together the broad picture. I do not know it today (Thursday - ed). It weighs on my mind every minute and hour. I will certainly do all to clear it up," the wrestler said.

According to Nabi, he has not thought of anything else since finding out he gave a positive test. "How is this possible? What are the connections? I do now know it today. If anyone is interested in a fast solution, it is me. My career and honor is at stake. It is very important," the Olympic silver medalist noted.

Since the topic is at its infancy, Nabi has no specific plan. He certainly wants to open a B-sample. "With the Wrestling Federation, we will put together a supportive team who will help me with advising. I am in a tough situation alone. It is such a new thing. I want to prove I am not a doping sinner and I have not used any banned substances," he said.

Nabi is currently in Budapest for a training camp. He is not sure how trainings will continue, but he has not ruled out competing at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. "All options are possible today, but I will proceed with the mindset of competing in the Tokyo Olympics. I have done a lot of honest work toward it," he said.

After news of the test came out, the wrestler has only received well-wishes and positive messages. "It powers me a little. If anything powers me at all, it is that I know I am clean," the Greco-Roman wrestler said.

Heiki Nabi at a virutal press conference on Thursday, February 18. Source: Screenshot

Doping expert: The case should not reach the public before B-sample is opened

Sports biologist and board member of the Estonian Anti-Doping Agency (EADA) Kristjan Port told Delfi (link in Estonian) that before the B-sample is taken, the case should not reach the public, as it has done now.

"Further steps are likely to be as follows: If they identify a bad [analytical] finding, then it is not an indictment yet. There could be many reasons for a bad finding. The athlete and the sports association are informed of an irregular or bad finding and that is where it should remain. Then the athlete's position is questioned. Then they will say either they are guilty or there is an explanation for all this, or that they do know the substance exists. But if they say there is no such substance and it is impossible, a B-sample is opened and things will be cleared after, depending on the result," Port explained.

Estonian Wrestling Federation secretary-general Jaanika Kaljola added: "We are in cooperation with both Heiki Nabi and the Estonian Center for Integrity in Sports. Our first and greatest wish is not to judge anyone, but to help the truth come out."

Culture minister: Let's wait for an explanation

Minister of Culture Anneli Ott (Center) announced after Nabi's positive test that there is zero tolerance for any kind of doping use. "The news is very unexpected. There is zero tolerance for the use of doping. There is no place in sports for abusers of banned substances. Every doping allegation breaks the trust in fair sports and pressures the athletes, who do their job honestly," Ott noted.

"The current allegation is made more complicated by the fact that the Seefeld scandal is still very fresh and Heiki Nabi is one of our medal hopefuls for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. We will wait for the athlete's explanations, the B-sample result and then the next steps will come," the minister added.

Another doping scandal in Estonian sports

At the end of February in 2019, a scandal broke out at the Seefeld Ski Championships in Austria, after police detained five athletes on suspicion of receiving illegal blood transfusion for the purpose of enhancing performances, during the sting operation termed "Operation Bloodletting". Mark Schmidt and his accomplices' regular customers were, which came as a shock to many in Estonia, Mati Alaver, Karel Tammjärv, Andreas Veerpalu and Algo Kärp.

Since the network was international, the investigation was divided between the countries. Schmidt with his four assistants fell under German court supervision. The athletes, including the three Estonian skiers and Andrus Veerpalu (a two-time Olympic gold medalist in cross-country skiing) acting as his son's coach, went to court in Austria.

Mati Alaver came under Estonian court jurisidiction, charged with facilitating illegal blood doping.

Alaver's criminal case was the first to get to the finish line, when the fallen-from-grace coach accepted a plea deal in 2019, amounting to a year in suspended sentence. However, the court materials were all sealed (open versus closed court cases is a matter of ongoing controversy in Estonia - ed.). Public broadcaster ERR and investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress contested the sealing, and last summer, a portion, around half, of the case file was published. Eesti Ekspress continued to pursue the decision, which resulted in the court publishing another few hundred pages from the same case file.

Editor's note: This article was updated with Nabi's virtual press conference.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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