July 07, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) Ten visually impaired Russian athletes in powerlifting have been banned for doping in a case linked to claims that some of them may have been doped without their knowledge.

The 10 athletes made up almost the entire national team. Nine of them were medalists at the 2015 world championships for blind and visually impaired powerlifters, and only three of the 13-strong Russian team from that competition remain eligible to compete.

The Russian anti-doping agency said in a statement Thursday that eight athletes were banned for four years, with two earning eight-year bans. It didn't give further details of their offenses.

The agency says the sanctions were backdated to May 2015, the time of the championships, meaning the athletes stand to lose their medals.

Documents released by a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation into Russian drug use show that in May 2015 the then-head of Moscow's drug-testing laboratory complained that blind powerlifters were being exploited by unscrupulous coaches.

That followed a string of positive tests for steroids.

Calling the situation ''a disgrace,'' laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov wrote that coaches were ''picking on the blind ... they can't even see what people are giving them.''

Those documents haven't been independently verified by The Associated Press.

Russia's entire team was barred from last year's Paralympics after WADA investigations found evidence of widespread drug use and a cover-up.

The powerlifters who have been banned wouldn't have been able to compete at the Paralympics, though, since Paralympic powerlifting is only open to athletes with impairments to their lower limbs or hips.

The International Blind Sports Federation and the International Paralympic Committee didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

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