SOCHI -- Just two hours before the biggest game of his career, a chance for a gold medal, Swedish forward Nicklas Backstrom got pulled from the ice by Tommy Boustedt. The Swedish hockey team’s general manager had just been informed by the IOC that Backstrom tested positive for elevated levels of pseudoephedrine in a drug test administered Wednesday night after Sweden’s quarterfinal win over Slovenia.
With no time to appeal before puck drop, Team Sweden was forced to pull Backstrom from the lineup at the last moment, and without him, the Swedes fell to Canada in the gold medal game 3-0 Sunday afternoon at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
The news came as a surprise because, Team Sweden’s doctor said, the IOC knew full well that Backstrom takes medication for a chronic sinus condition, allergy medicine that contains pseudoephedrine. The 26-year-old Washington Capitals forward said he’s been taking Zyrtec D for the last seven years and has never tested positive.
Since September, he says, he had been drug tested by the NHL twice and once by the IOC before Wednesday under the same medication. His levels, officials said, were 190 nanograms per milliliter, 40 nanograms over the in-competition limit. But IIHF chief medical officer Dr. Mark Aubry was adamant at a press conference after the gold medal game that he believed Backstrom was not doping, that he was innocent.
“I certainly feel strong as a medical person that there certainly is no doping in this instance,” Aubry said. “He is an innocent victim, and we support him strongly.”
“I have absolutely nothing to hide,” Backstrom said. “It was a little shocking to me if I’m being honest with you…. I feel like I haven’t done anything differently now than in the different years.”
From the Olympic Village Backstrom watched his teammates struggle to generate offense against Canada, upset that he couldn’t be on the ice with them. Even talking with reporters about missing out on the chance to play, Backstrom looked emotional.
“I’ve been here for two weeks now,” he said. “It’s probably my most fun two weeks I’ve ever had. We have a great group of guys. I was ready to play probably the biggest game of my career, and two and a half hours before the game, I got pulled aside. That’s...” He searched for a word, any word. “That’s sad,” he finally said.
Boustedt went even further, declaring, “the IOC has destroyed one of the greatest hockey days in Swedish history.” Because of the late timing, which Sweden was told was because of the huge volume of tests being administered, Boustedt suspected this was a political move made by the IOC to use a big name at a big time to assert its power on the anti-doping front.
“The timing was awful,” Boudstedt said. “Normally, you get the results in 48 hours. That would be Friday…. If we got this decision two days ago, I don’t think so many people would be sitting here right now and discussing this.… I think they waited until it would make a good impact with journalists…. If you hold onto the results for a couple of days, closer to the [final] game, you get more people to be interested in this. [It’s] political in that way that they need examples to show the whole sport world that we don’t accept doping.
“They need examples to scare cheaters with,” he said as the Olympic closing ceremony began next door at Fischt Stadium. “But Nick is not one of them.”
The general protocol moving forward, Aubry said, was that after the Olympics were done, the jurisdiction for discipline would then fall to the IIHF. Though he did not want to venture a guess as to how that appeal would go, he did reassert his belief that there was nothing nefarious about Backstrom’s case, that there were many reasons why he could have elevated levels.
The NHL’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly released a statement, saying pseudoephedrine is not on the league’s banned substance list. “Subject to confirmation of the facts as we understand them… we do not anticipate there being any consequences relative to Nicklas’ eligibility to participate in games for the Washington Capitals,” the statement read.
The IOC could not be reached for comment.